WAKE UP LITTLE SUSIE, the second in Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series, continues Gorman's ode to small town middle-America in the late 1950s. It begins some seven months after the events in THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED (notwithstanding the statement early in the book that it is set approximately one year before that book). The Ford Motor Company is set to debut what is supposed to be its ultimate pride and joy, the Edsel, little knowing that the name of that automobile will enter the popular lexicon as another term for loser. The car, a hallmark of technological advancements and stylistic disasters, arrives on the showroom floor of Keys Ford-Lincoln with a non-factory option: a dead body in the trunk.
The body is that of Susan Squires, wife of David Squires, a local attorney with political ambitions, a tendency toward spousal abuse, and a graveyard full of skeletons in his closet. McCain, fledgling attorney and private investigator extraordinaire, suspects Squires of the murder; but he is merely first among equals on McCain's list. Squires's jealous ex-wife Amy has motive, opportunity, and a propensity for violence. Susan's one-time, and possibly two-time lover, Dr. Todd Jenson, is also high on the list. The easy target, however, is Mike Chalmers, an ex-convict living with his handicapped daughter on the outskirts of town. McCain, however, doubts Chalmers's involvement in the matter. McCain's investigation is further complicated when Mary Travers, a friend of Susan Squires, is abducted. McCain's involvement with Travers is a complicated one, made all the more so by his present investigation.
Clifford Sykes, the thoroughly corrupt Black River Falls police chief, feels that his investigation --- and case --- is closed once he arrests Chalmers for the murder of Susan Squires. In actuality, however, the investigation is only beginning. McCain, utilizing such slim clues as a broken taillight and tire tracks, finds himself led to an unbelievable but unshakable conclusion concerning the identity of the murderer.
WAKE UP LITTLE SUSIE, like THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED, finds Gorman in top form as he pays tribute to the era and the detective literature of the 1950s, while delivering a topnotch mystery that will leave readers guessing until almost the last page. Sam McCain is an endearing character, as much for his occasional, believable ineptness as for his doggedness and integrity in a place and time when these were not necessarily endearing qualities. Gorman will hopefully provide his legion of fans with many, many more visits to Black River Falls and Sam McCain.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 1, 2000