Mcdonald's new publisher, Vintage Books, reissued Fletch and its first two sequels (Confess, Fletch and Fletch's Fortune) last month. Mcdonald spent most of the '90s sitting on the publication rights until the series had fallen out of print, a move of Fletchlike savvy that allowed his famous character to have one home.
"It's an issue of someone stumbling into something bigger than he is," Mcdonald, 65, says by telephone from his Tennessee farm. He's explaining about the tendency of (eventually ex-) reporter Fletch to let his nose for news lead him to mayhem. But Mcdonald could be talking about his own accidental evolution from journalist to best-selling author. A collection of Mcdonald's nonfiction work remains out of print, but the crisp descriptions and terse dialogue of his novels trace their origins to the Boston Globe, where Mcdonald worked as a reporter and columnist from 1966 to 1973.
Boston is also home to Francis Flynn, the Irish police inspector Mcdonald introduced in Confess, Fletch. Three Flynn-only mysteries followed; Vintage will also reissue those.
"Flynn actually sells as well or better than Fletch," Mcdonald says. "Fletch sells on the East and West coasts, but Flynn sells everywhere. I don't think anything I've written is underrated; I'm just amazed that everything is so rated," he says, laughing.
"I call what I do literature," Mcdonald continues, "because in these books, I'm talking about what it is like being a person in a time and a place. But I'm well aware that it's time for me to say, 'OK, this is what I've done, and I'm stepping aside.' I'm eager for [other writers] to get busy and tell me what it's like to be alive in a time and a place. I don't know what it's like to be nineteen now and experience the world. But I want to know. That's the job of writing, the trick to literature."
The other trick, Mcdonald says, is simplicity -- which doesn't always come easily to him. "That's the challenge that gets me up in the morning. When I'm writing the line, first comes the cliché, then comes the line that's better than that, then the next. I'll sit there or go outside until finally the line underneath it all will come to me, the one that's funny, that isn't glib and is real," Mcdonald says.
Glibly erratic Clerks auteur Kevin Smith continues to badger movie studios for the chance to make his own Fletch update -- with Mcdonald's blessing. Better for Mcdonald fans, though, will be two new books: a stand-alone work he likens to his harrowing snuff-film novel The Brave and another "surprise" he says he has in store: Flynn's World, due next year.