Time Machine Book Review: The Timothy Files and Timothy’s Game

The Timothy Files, Lawrence Sanders, 1987, Berkley Books
Timothy’s Game, Lawrence Sanders, 1988, Berkley Books

When the term Private Investigator comes up in conversation, everyone has a touchstone. Whether it’s Magnum P.I. or Sam Spade, the overall tradition has been of a man who is pithy, good with the ladies, drinks, smokes, and kills, albeit reluctantly and usually in self defense.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Timothy Cone.

Although he’s a private detective and fits the bill of stereotypes, he’s not pithy. In fact, he’s the only detective who has forced me keep a dictionary handy to translate his verbosity during the reading of Lawrence Sanders’ wonderfully funny and unfortunately too short series of 2 books containing 3 short stories each.

Timothy Cone works for Haldering & Co. a Manhattan Wall Street firm that investigates clients for buyouts and mergers. Pretty dull stuff in theory, until the murder, sex, (the stories take place in the 1980’s, so there is a lot of cocaine and some ebullient wife-swapping) and thievery of the clients make the books difficult to put down. With plots that are so realistic they can awaken the felon a reader never knew they inwardly possessed, (I know now how to commit insider trading if it was 30 years ago).  The books “The Timothy Files” and “Timothy’s Game” have intricate descriptions of Manhattan when it was still dirty and dangerous, with mind-numbingly intelligent plots that make these short stories some of the best mysteries I have ever read. And re-read. And still laughed out loud at, 16 years after I read them for the first time. But the best thing, is the is the dialogue. (And the fact that when Cone leaves his apartment he orders his cat, Cleo not to masturbate while he is gone.)

Cones’ description of his romantic interest Samantha Watling, (his boss): “an iron fist in an iron glove.”

About a briefcase full of papers he has to carry home: “I lugged the blivet down here.” *

Admiring an attractive woman: “What a dish! He suddenly remembers a gyrene** buddy of his spotting a similar woman on the street and remarking admiringly, ‘all you need with that is a spoon and a straw.'”

A sergeant he’s working a case with, who constantly bums cigarettes: “I’m trying to quit smoking by not buying cigarettes. Now I’m going to die a mooch with lung cancer.”

To a libidinous older police detective he’s eating lunch with: “Your a dirty old man.” “Well, I was a dirty young man, I haven’t changed.”

These stories are fast paced, daring, and the perfect mix of noir and humor. And I haven’t loaned one out without the person becoming a convert. A girlfriend who’s never read a mystery, a friend before he was shipped to Iraq, a theater production designer – they all came back raving and quoting the book randomly over drinks.

Timothy Cone can make friends among the most diverse groups of people.

I’m not a fan of Lawrence Sanders’ ‘Deadly Sin’ series, or any of his other books actually. They never captured my interest. But, to re-work that stupid Jerry Maguire quote into the ground in regard to Timothy Cone, “He had me at scragged.” ***

* blivet – 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag
**gyrene – a member the US Marine Corps
*** scragged – killed

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