It’s a good idea to murder somebody sooner rather than later. Sounds like a quote from Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, we don’t have quotes from Jack the Ripper because Jack’s middle name was Incognito. Why is it we’re all fascinated with murder? Same reason we study the Civil War or the Kennedy Assassination. The good thing about being thrust into the world of the horrific, the vile and the despicable is we can exit out a door and step out of that world. For a breather anyway. The things that we can’t imagine being a part of or even witnessing is strangely tantalizing. Unless you’re one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Then you’d better learn to run like hell.
In Johnny’s Back in Town I noticed, especially in the audio book, that there is a prolonged period in the beginning of the book before the murder is committed. I almost compressed chapters to get the murder underway. This is true for your normal murder-mystery but the Jones series isn’t normal and has other elements- townie humor, a subplot of a new dean at the college, and a focus on Cocoa. Cocoa’s ‘old man’ left his mother and brother when Cocoa was just a kid. Johnny Stefani bolted to Vegas to start a new life. It’s appropriate that the bowling tournament for the charity about kids losing their father is the centerpiece of the murder scene. Here’s where the story gets prolonged. The opportunity is for the Hamilton locals, as nutzo as they are, to be in their element with Cocoa’s temper flaring because he owns the bowling alley. Also, it is Cocoa’s insight not the cops that establishes the logistics of the murder.
When I was growing up my mother would have a billion stories and background information on everyone who lived in our hometown, complete with nicknames. In Hamilton there is always a backstory, usually told by Lark Larsen but Cocoa and the mob have backstories too. Of course, Jones sinks into that history. So, when I’m telling the backstory in Jones I’m probably engaging, albeit fiction, of my mother’s embellishing of the past.
Hamilton, New Hampshire is separated from the city of Prince William by the Devonshire Hills. Here are two markedly different geographical areas and lifestyles. The area is an amalgamation of Amherst, Massachusetts where I went to school and elements of North Easton, Massachusetts where I grew up. Amherst is separated by the Holyoke Range from the greater Springfield area and both Amherst and North Easton are next to the cities of Northampton and Brockton. Father Jim Gallagher, Jones’s priest, and good friend, bridges that gap between Hamilton and Prince William and conveniently allows Jones lodging when he doesn’t have his jeep. Gallagher is also the moral conscience of Matthias Jones while Jones tiptoes through the assortment of mob characters from Boston to Providence, New York, and Vegas. Most of the mob likes Jones!
A familiar motif develops In Johnny’s Back in Town. Jones, usually with Cocoa and possibly one of the town’s illustrious characters, investigates the murders and very often are drawn outside the Hamilton area. Be prepared for car chases and shoot outs. Remember, this is not reality. Rather, it is in a realm that most of us will never be in. Like riding a roller coaster. Hopefully, you’re riding at Six Flags and not on the highway.
If you read or listen to the Matthias Jones books, you’ll see the ruthless, the arrogant, the boastful or snobbish know-it-alls’ always get their comeuppance. (The Marx Brothers, Moe Larry and Curly) And if you’re from New England you will particularly enjoy Arnie Dewars’s stunt at the end of the book. I think there is a direct correlation from watching Seinfeld over and over again.
I should mention Uncle Dullio. Dullio doesn’t say much but he is totally loyal to Cocoa and Jones. Waiting for an Uncle Dullio confrontation is well worth it. He started for Notre Dame in football and was in an elite military unit. Pushing three hundred pounds, mostly muscle, he’s always eating and consistently provides a Deus ex machina that even the gods would envy.
Johnny’s Back in Town