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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Epitaph for a Tramp

by
David Markson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Epitaph for a Tramp



Title: Epitaph for a Tramp
Author: David Markson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1959
Length: 176 pages
Availability: in: Epitaph for a Tramp/Epitaph for a Dead Beat - US
in: Epitaph for a Tramp/Epitaph for a Dead Beat - UK
in: Epitaph for a Tramp/Epitaph for a Dead Beat - Canada
Epitaphe pour une garce - France
Nachruf auf einen toten Tramp - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A- : smooth, and very well done -- fine pulp fun and excitement

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2007 David Cozy
TLS . 25/5/2007 Stephen Burn


  From the Reviews:
  • "They have some deft dialogue but their clusters of literary allusions strain the boundaries of the crime genre." - Stephen Burn, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Yes, the author is the same David Markson who went on to write Wittgenstein's Mistress and the likes of This is not a Novel, but you'd never guess it from the Harry Fannin detective novels. Epitaph for a Tramp is pure pulp, but of the most impressive kind. Markson has all the tricks and moves of the genre down, and he puts on a damn good show.
       The story has it all, beginning with a woman from Harry's past showing up on his doorstep on a sweltering summer night. She's been stabbed and she dies pretty much in his arms. It's Cathy, the woman he'd been married to.
       So begins a complex but not convoluted tale, as Harry tries to find whoever is responsible for this. Along the way he fills in some of the blanks of their short-lived relationship and what ended it, and he learns a bit more, too, as Cathy's past and her reckless ways of course play a role in all of this.
       Harry's first stop is Cathy's apartment, but he's not the only one who shows up there. It seems Cathy got herself involved in a little heist and one of the others who was in on the job is looking for her -- and the tidy sum of cash she took with her. One partner leads to another, but if they're looking for Cathy they don't know she's dead (and thus can't be responsible for he murder), leaving a lot more questions open.
       Harry has a decent relationship with the police and joins in on the hunt. It's a long and pretty violent day -- there are a lot of injuries (accidental and inflicted on purpose) and the occasional death along the way --, and there are any number of leads to follow up on (from the MG Cathy was driving -- which Fannin uses as a ride for a while -- to a writer and a photographer who knew her). The conclusion doesn't come completely as a surprise, but the explanation is convincing (and pulpish) enough, and Markson gets the classical-tragedy feel to it all just right.
       Markson can't help slip in a few more literary bits than the novel can really bear, from the "gay little thing by Thomas Mann called The Magic Mountain" Harry is reading in bed that first hot night to a student's unlikely comparative literature-course paper praising William Gaddis' The Recognitions to the skies. Still, sometimes it works:

     He nodded, hardly looking at me. He hadn't really seen me since we'd gotten there, which I supposed explained why he liked Hemingway so much. Hemingway never sees anybody either.
       But overall Markson gets pretty much everything right, from the general feel and the characters to all the emotions at play here. Yes, its hard-boiled, but there's human frailty poking through everywhere. And Markson knows how to tell a story like this. It may be imitation-Chandler (and half a dozen other 40s and 50s writers), but Markson holds his own, and does enough to make it his own too. He lets the story unfold just right, and he gets the tone down right, too, throughout. Even when he tries a bit too hard, it's still pretty damn good:
     He stopped. When he did I heard an alarm clock ticking. It was the first time I'd heard it. Observant Fannin, the astute private eye. I, eye. Ask me what the bedroom looked like and I'll tell you it had some walls.
       Epitaph for a Tramp has everything you'd look for, and everything you'd want, in a pulp thriller. It doesn't transcend the genre or anything, but it's a damn fine example of it, and more memorable than most. A very good read.

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Links:

Reviews: David Markson: Other books by David Markson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author David Markson was born in 1927 and died in 2010.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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