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Umbrella man
Swanson, Doug J., 1953-
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Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [1999]

Physical Description:
273 pages ; 23 cm
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Jack Flippo stumbles upon Marty Dufrain, the owner of a few frames of black-and-white film that just might show a second gunman firing at President Kennedy on that famous November day.In the lee of the triple overpass, overshadowed by the schoolbook depository, squats the Grassy Knoll. It stood at the center of the Kennedy assassination as surely as it serves as the focus for all manner of crackpots and conspiracy theorists today. In his latest mess, Jack Flippo seems to have found his share of them. From Jack's friends--a homicidal con artist making a buck off assassination re-creations in the "You-are-there JFK deathmobile"--to his enemies--an oxygen-dependent ex-killer and his cognitively challenged sons-in-law--Umbrella Man keeps Jack wondering which group he dreads most.Reminding readers and critics alike of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, Swanson is "the John Travolta of the comic caper: he makes it all look light and easy and seems to be having a great time too" (Kirkus Reviews).

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Jack Flippo is a Dallas lawyer who steals money from widows and orphans, but he's a reluctant shyster. It's hard to live a buttoned-down life when your girlfriend's idea of a fashion icon is Johnny Cash, and she displays a family of inflatable adult dolls in her living room as an artistic statement. Jack becomes involved with the "DuFrain film," a rumored counterpart to Zapruder's infamous home movie of the Kennedy assassination. DuFrain's film puportedly shows an "umbrella man," or second gunman. Jack sets out to prove whether or not the film actually exists, but to do so he must cope with an assortment of sinister nut cases, from a homicidal con artist to an oxygen-deprived hit man. It's a comic caper worthy of Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard, with a uniquely Texas twist. Readers who like their mayhem served with laughs and a cold Lone Star will love Flippo and his goofy cadre of lowlifes. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the small but distinct subgenre of the private eye as likable loser, Swanson's Jack Flippo looms large. The first three books in the series (Big Town, Dreamboat and 96 Tears) won awards and attention; this latest entry isn't up to snuff. The former Dallas assistant district attorney and PI is once again holding down a straight job in a respectable law firm, but he quickly messes up and so returns to working as a snoop, for a seedy collection of clients trying to trace a piece of film that may prove there was a second shooter in the JFK assassination. In a moment of self-revelation, Jack muses that "he knew himself well enough to see he was a guy who had found out plenty and never knew what to do with it. Made money but couldn't save it, got jobs but couldn't hold them.... had pulled stupid, almost suicidal stunts for sex, while driving away every woman, including two wives, who loved him." The trouble is that this time Jack is the only interesting character in a book peopled with types too familiar from other mysteries: a ritual pair of dumb thugs who are dangerous mostly to themselves; a dying master criminal who breathes attached to an oxygen bottle; a crooked ex-cop who turns nasty. Even Jack's weird artist girlfriend, Lola, seems to have wandered in from Elmore Leonard's pages. The liveliest moments come when Jack plunges into the touristy cesspool spawned by JFK-assassination-mania (a tour in a 1963 Lincoln called the Grassy Knoll Experience, for example). But even these highlights, and Swanson's vaunted talent for capturing the seamy underbelly of Dallas, aren't enough to satisfy the discriminating fan. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The twenty-second day of November came with brilliant sunshine and perfectly clear skies, a beautiful slice of fall in Dallas, Texas. Eddie Nickles said, "Let you in on a little secret, my friend. Snipers love weather like this."     As he spoke, a midnight-blue 1963 Lincoln convertible limousine made its way down Main Street, engine purring, paint glinting in the sunlight. Christ, it was a beautiful car. Two flags rippled from small staffs above the Lincoln's headlights. One was the Stars and Stripes. The other displayed the seal of the President of the United States.     A radio newsman described the scene. Big deep voice, trying to paint a picture for all the listeners: The crowds are six deep here along the sun-splashed streets of downtown Dallas, a colorful sea of Texans. It's a warm, friendly Lone Star welcome for the President and Mrs. Kennedy.     "Everybody's happy, everybody's feeling good," Eddie said over the radio cheers. "Especially the dudes with the guns. Notice I said dudes, plural. Notice I-- Hey, champ, do me a favor, don't spill no coffee on the upholstery."     The Lincoln moved now toward the old schoolbook depository, a red brick box of a building. The grassy knoll loomed ahead. Eddie glanced at a window on the book depository's sixth floor. He said, "Here's where we get down and get funky. Like the man says, Gentlemen, start your carbines."     From the radio newsman: President Kennedy's motorcade has entered Dealey Plaza. The President is smiling and waving to the delighted crowd. He seems to be saying something to Mrs. Kennedy.     "You got that right." Eddie nodded and licked his lips. "He's telling his old lady they should get the hell out of this burg right now."     The Lincoln crept downhill, into the sweeping curve toward the Triple Underpass. Now the radio guy was confused: There seems to be some problem ... A sound ... Could have been a motorcycle backfire ... Something has gone terribly wrong.     "Shots fired!" Eddie shouted. "Hear that? Shots fired! The President has been hit! President Kennedy has been--" Eddie broke off his shouting when the Lincoln became hard to control. Saying to himself, the hell is this? He gripped the wheel with both hands and steered the limo toward the curb, like bringing a big boat to dock in rough water.     "You believe this?" Eddie said. "This is nuts. I think we just blew a tire."     The radio newsman was at fever pitch now. Jabbering about gunshots and Secret Service agents and Mrs. Kennedy on the trunk of the car--going full tilt until Eddie pressed the eject button on the Lincoln's tape player. The newsman's voice went silent and a cassette came sliding out. On its label: YOU ARE THERE, DALLAS, NOV. 22, 1963. Copyright 1999 by Edward T. Nickles, Grassy Knoll Productions.     "Goddamn piece-of-garbage used tires." Eddie shifted the Lincoln into park and slammed a hand against the dashboard. "Supposed to be a twenty-thousand-mile guarantee."     Traffic backed up behind the Lincoln. A driver in a delivery truck hit his horn twice. Eddie gave him the finger as he got out of the car and checked the damage. The right front tire was nothing but shredded rubber.     Eddie said, "We're talking lawsuit now."     This should have been his biggest day of the year, the anniversary of the JFK rubout. There would be people all over Dealey Plaza--all over the world, it seemed to Eddie--wanting to take the Assassination Re-creation Tour in Eddie's authentic replica of Kennedy's limo. People who would think nothing of paying twenty-five dollars a head while Eddie drove them along the exact presidential death route, playing the You Are There tape and providing expert commentary as needed. "The sons of bitches will not get away with this." Eddie leaned against the hood, his hands flat on the shiny new paint job that still hadn't been paid for. The presidential flag stirred in a light breeze. "These tire company bastards are gonna cough it up big, believe that. Major damages."     From behind him a man's voice said, "Pocklin?"     Eddie turned. The tourist who had been in the back seat of the Lincoln stood on the sidewalk now, still holding his coffee cup. Eddie tried to remember what country the guy was from. All he could come up with was one of those places where they wore leather shorts and yodeled all day.     "Now what?" Eddie said.     The tourist set his coffee cup on the sidewalk, unzipped his fanny pack and found one of Eddie's brochures for the Grassy Knoll Experience. He pointed to the section labeled Exciting Finale . Eddie had written the text himself: Join in the exciting thrill of a high-speed dash to Parkland Hospital, where gallant doctors worked feverishly in a vain effort to save the mortally wounded President's life!!!     "Go now?" the tourist said.     That was the best part of the tour, Eddie had to admit. Doing eighty up Stemmons Freeway, the limo's top down, while the You Are There tape gave the sound of a siren over moans and screams. Then roaring into the Parkland entrance and hitting the brakes in front of the emergency room.     Some of the customers liked the Parkland run so much they tipped Eddie a ten-spot. One night it even got him laid, right on the Lincoln's JFK death seat by a thin, bucktoothed girl with a Jacqueline fixation.     "To Pocklin now?" the tourist said.     Eddie pointed to the dead fire. "Hey, ace, you see this? Maybe in Slobovia you drive on a flat. Not in this country."     The tourist frowned and said something about money back. Amazing, Eddie thought. The guy could barely speak English but had the concept of refund down cold.     "Hey, if it was up to me, sure. But refunds are against federal law. Tell you what I'll do, though. Right up the hill here"--Eddie pointed up Elm--"is a place called the Conspiracy Institute. Go up there, say Eddie Nickles sent you, they'll let you in free."     "Say Eddie Neekles sent you."     "In Dallas, Texas, them words is magic."     When he hesitated Eddie told him, "They might even throw in a free T-shirt." That sealed it, and the tourist walked away, leaving Eddie to deal with another problem: No spare tire in the trunk, and not enough ready cash for a tow truck.     A small crowd had gathered near the Lincoln, which happened whenever he brought it anywhere near the assassination site. Eddie got ready for the question somebody was sure to ask: Is that the car ? If I tell you that, Eddie always answered, the Secret Service will have me and you killed.     He found some Grassy Knoll brochures in the glove box and handed them out to the people gawking at the limo. Saying, "Have it up and running in no time, folks. Then you can take the death ride of your life."     An old man with a video camera wandered over. He taped the Lincoln from a couple of angles, finally asking Eddie, "What happened?"     "Somebody sabotaged it. Slit the sidewall."     The old man knelt and studied the flat tire. "Looks like it just wore out to me."     "No, somebody cut it," Eddie said, loud enough for everyone to hear. "Wouldn't be surprised if it was the CIA. Could have been the Cuban mob, they're around." He gazed toward the Triple Underpass. "They don't like what I'm doing out here, I can tell you that, the things Eddie Nickles is uncovering. They don't like it one-- Hey, no more pictures. Who you working for anyway? You with the FBI?" Copyright © 1999 Doug Swanson. All rights reserved.