Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Sagamore Saga.

Seven-year-0ld Billy’s Uncle Sagamore in Charles Williams’ The Diamond Bikini (Simon & Schuster, London, 1956) is quite a character. As usual, I happened to have this gem of a book lying unread for years in one of my cupboards. What a treat it is. First of all, this (to me) unknown mystery writer has a great knack for story telling. Secondly, he uses Billy, the son of Sam Noonan. an itinerant race course tout, to tell it. This makes the narrative rip-roaringly hilarious because Billy recounts every shenanigan of his uncle with a straight face without understanding the deviousness behind it. Sagamore has a genius for making money without doing an honest day’s work. He sells moonshine, runs the gambling racket and even the whorehouses in the nearby town in the Deep South of the US of A in the early fifties. What’s more, he does it while claiming to be always cooperating with the law and manages to duck out of every confrontation with the Sherif, whom he calls "Shurf", unscathed. When a nightclub singer - and the star witness in a gangland killing - takes refuge on his farm and then goes missing in the wilderness wearing nothing but a diamond-studded g-string, he masterminds a whole carnival around the search for her and literally mints money. The law finally catches up with Sagamore who is incarcerated for a long, long time. In the jail too, he organises all sorts of money-making rackets until the thoroughly disgusted jailor and the State Governor conspire to have him pardoned claiming a mistrial. It’s a laugh riot.