Jason Squire Fluck has written a smart novel that embraces many of the conventions found in the detective genre, thus earning its place in that section of the bookstore — but Jon Fixx also breaks with enough of them to land in popular/literary fiction as well.
Jon Fixx, Fluck’s eponymous hero, isn’t a detective by calling; he is a ‘wanna-be serious author’ who funds his ‘serious’ work by hiring himself out to young couples who want their love stories told, then bound for presentation to wedding guests. To make these tributes to the uniqueness of each couple’s mutual devotion ring true, Jon does extensive interviews with family and friends; he occasionally unearths a detail or two best not included in the final draft — but rather than pursue them he has the good taste to leave them out of the finished document.
When we begin this story, though, Jon has discovered such truly tawdry tidbits in the life histories of both bride and groom — of the sort that no self-respecting White Knight can allow to go unnoticed — he can’t help putting a hatchet into the wedding plans of the Nickels’ clan—a political powerhouse California family. Now, the brother and father of the rejected bride want to put a hatchet into Jon’s life. Their random assaults put one of Jon’s two feet into ‘detecting,’ but these bad guys quickly become the sub-plot.
Enter the Vespuccis. Tony, the unofficial boss of the New York Mafia, wants to hire Jon Fixx to document the romance between his daughter, Maggie, and her fiancé, Marco, the son of Tony’s best friend and head of another Mafia family. Jon’s internal warning system blares ‘run the other way,’ but he picks up the equally pointed message that ‘no one says no to Tony Vespucci’. (A character trait that Jon shares with all good fictional detectives is intuition and sensitivity to other people, to what they are saying and to what they aren’t saying and to what they are really saying. It serves him well when working with shy (or sly) young couples, or in this case terribly powerful men who have no qualms about eliminating people who annoy them.) During his job interview, Jon picks up the vibe that Tony, more than wanting the wonderful gift for his daughter’s wedding guests, wants Jon — in his capacity as harmless maker of wedding-fluff — to dig deep and find out if there is some ugly truth about Marco that isn’t on the table.
From the moment Jon sets eyes on Marco he senses that the young swain’s intentions are less than honorable, that Tony is right to be concerned for his daughter’s future happiness. Marco, a clever, high-end sociopath, has no interest in anyone — even a wedding-book hack — turning over any rocks. He is the man with the most to lose and the most to hide, and thus turns into Jon’s most threatening adversary. Marco wants Jon off the scene; he does not want Jon doing what Jon does, which is find the threads in the lives of both bride and groom that are what braid all lovers together. Marco knows his are broken and way beyond repair.
Between Tony’s truculent insistence and Jon’s fundamentally decent wish to protect Maggie from a terrible mistake, this new gig for the Vespuccis puts the second foot in: Jon Fixx is now, officially, an amateur detective.
Fluck successfully gets all these ducks in a row quite early in the book, while creating a warm feeling of concern for Jon Fixx; it is his character who keeps the pages turning. We certainly don’t want Marco dumping him into the foundry’s pit of molten steel, nor do we want the aforementioned Nickels’ thugs to break his kneecaps in some dark alley brawl. These are some angry, dangerous, often cold hearted, people where Fixx is the kind of guy you’d want to marry your sister. His flaws are endearing; he’s better at reading other people than he is at knowing himself; his relationships are not entirely healthy — his women tend to prey on his innocence and good nature. Nonetheless, Jon remains a gentleman throughout, observant about women’s clothing and secret curves — a suave man in all the ways that matter. (Fluck manages to decorously let us know that, like all good detectives, Jon is no innocent in the bedroom but has too much class to talk about it.)
Jon Fixx rambles energetically through a variety of plots, subplots and ruminations, with Fluck bringing in the FBI and an assorted cast of goons and gun-men, all of whom have Jon on their minds. Lest his protagonist seem unrealistically outnumbered, Fluck teams him with two charming sidekicks: Donovan, the broad-shouldered African American, ex-special forces; and Luci, the martial arts master/ erstwhile cross-dressing and now artistic director of the books Jon Fixx creates for his clients. They are both sympathetic to Jon’s intuitions and have the physical wiles to keep him safe enough to go on sleuthing while never completely eliminating the threats that hang over him.
All this pays off because there is the perfect girl for Jon in this story. Yes, it looks like Jon might be at the end of his personal search for his 10 — that is, if he plays his cards right and finds out what Tony Vespucci really wants him to find out while keeping his head intact and squarely attached to his broad, capable shoulders. In all, Jon Fixx is a very satisfying experience for readers who like their detective stories fully fleshed-out with plenty of individualistic characters, cross-currents of plot and personality, thoughtful ruminations on the state of the world and a satisfying conclusion — and who doesn’t?
Review written by Mona Houghton, author FROTTAGE & EVEN AS WE SPEAK