Hoochie Coochie Man: A Varian Pike Mystery

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The discovery of his true identity reveals far more than his real name.
Book Description

Shunned because of his role in the infamous “Greenwich Massacre,” PI Varian Pike finds himself on the outs with just about everybody, but, when buildings all over Stamford start exploding, Pike has to find a way to join the hunt for the bomber. After he partners with a mysterious British insurance investigator and a beautiful American psychologist, the team discovers that the bombs are not being planted by a “mad” bomber as everybody thinks but by a man on a mission who calls himself “Hoochie Coochie Man.” The discovery of his true identity reveals far more than his real name.
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For someone who grew up in the 1950s, there's a gap between the boyhood life lived and the historical epoch a child never noticed. So in Hoochie Coochie Man, that erstwhile boy sees the great old Fords, Lincolns, Pontiacs that entranced him and the music he heard coming from someone else's window. Even the sainted 50s Yankees make an appearance. What the boy didn't understand is that the world was barely a decade removed from WWII, was dipping its toes in the Korean War, was subjecting itself to McCarthy, was experimenting on citizens and soldiers with powerful war-waging drugs. DeWitt's novel balances these two worlds--the one we remember as boys and the one our parents protected us from--on a razor. Varian Pike has survived the violence of the battlefield and mob violence in Connecticut. He rather relishes violence, it seems, and feels no obligation to forgo violence when he suspects he's in the right. And in this book, he is utterly right chapters and chapters before he discovers how right he is. He makes the discovery of the criminal parties at about the same moment the reader who knows some history realizes who is doing what, and why. I felt a momentary disappointment at that point because, having solved the puzzle, I wasn't sure what I'd find in the last third of the book. Eventually, I understood that Pike has to go through all the steps, all the witnesses, all the puzzles in order to reach the understanding that history finally taught us. (You note that I'm trying hard not to give it away. But that's the point: the novel leads us through the historical record in a fiction that demonstrates just how malign the political world of the 50s was.) In this regard, the last third of the book--after I had recognized the single historical event that launches the mystery--is the master stroke that makes the reading such a horrifying pleasure.

-- Peter Stambler

About the Author ▸ Jack DeWitt

Jack DeWitt is a poet, a chronicler of car culture as well as a novelist. In addition to the Varian Pike series, DeWitt has also written extensively about automobilia, particularly hot rods for the American Poetry Review. His essay on the Doane Spencer Deuce was selected as one of the notable essays of 2009 in The Best American Essays 2010, edited by Christopher Hitchens and Robert Atwan. His Cool Cars, High Art: The Rise of Kustom Kulture (University Press of Mississippi, 2003) was a Streetrodder Hall of Fame selection. A section of the book was reprinted in the Hot Rod Reader Almost Grown, the latest of his four books of poems, published by Paper Kite Press in 2008, is about growing up in Stamford, CT, a city that has been the focus, some might call it an obsession, of his work for some time. About Almost Grown, Stephen Berg, editor of the American Poetry Review said, “there are only a few people working in this utterly unadorned, unsung blue-collar vein, and Jack DeWitt is the master of the genre.” He has a PhD in English from the University of Connecticut. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA where he taught for four decades. He moved to the Cape with Judy DeWitt in 2016.