Yes, boys and girls, our country had bigger problems than Elvis getting drafted, the Edsel, and getting a date for the sock hop on Saturday night. Here’s Gorman’s words:
"Part of the reason I started writing the Sam McCain novels was because I was sick of hearing about how wonderful the decade of the Fifties was. …. By then even the Republicans knew better. If you were white, Christian, middle-class, straight and white collar the decade was probably more decent to you than not. But given the racism, sexism, Communist witch hunts, union-busting and large pockets of poverty, not even Ozzie’s dopey smile could make the excluded Happy."
Now don’t get the idea these stories are sermons. They aren’t. They just deal with ‘the real picture’ of the decade that is often painted as the American Ideal. The books, while remaining great mysteries and giving a long overdue update to the genre, are humorous and Sam’s dialogue is as sharp and cynical as Philip Marlowe’s. The mysteries are as puzzling as anything in the genre, the characters are very real and very true to their time and place, and he manages to expose social ills as well as Dashiell Hammett did. In short, Ed Gorman is one of the gems in these fictional fields.
The first novel is titled The Day The Music Died, and is set against the backdrop of the tragic plane crash in Iowa that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The story opens with McCain and his high school sweetheart Pamela Forrest leaving The Surf Ballroom, having just witnessed Holly’s last show. They get in McCain’s ‘51 Ford convertible with the custom skirts, louvered hood and special weave top. With that description, Gorman takes the genre out of the jazz age and into the world of rock and roll.
On the trip home to Black River Falls through the same snowstorm that would kill the legends, McCain and Pamela argue over the radio station, she wants to listen to Perry Como, and McCain loves Buddy Holly. Pamela is also in love with someone else, but McCain will carry his flame for her through the snowstorm and through the series, just like he has since the 4th grade.
The next morning about 5 a.m McCain gets woken up by his employer, Judge Esme Anne Whitney, a wealth scion of the small town. Her nephew is holed up on his estate, drunk and threatening suicide. McCain is to keep it quiet since the local Chief of Police is the new money in the town and the enemy socially and politically of the judge. When McCain arrives and makes his way inside, he discovers that Kenny’s wife is dead, shot, and Kenny admits to shooting her, then promptly kills himself.