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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

A Sad Song Singing

cover image By: Dewey, Thomas B. (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (35044)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 230: PS3507 .E883 S3 1965
Contributor: P. Ryan


Era: 1960s Author as on Cover: Thomas B. Dewey Geographic Locale: Chicago, Illinois and fictional small towns in Indiana Date of Publication: 1965  |  Original Date: 1963 Setting: urban/large city; brief stops at a run-down receiving hospital, photo gallery in police headquarters, a bar and a hotel at the Loop on Michigan Avenue. Most of the action is set in the folk club circuit, not just in Chicago but small college towns throughout rural Indiana Motives: mayhem, assault and even kidnapping are committed for possession of Cress's suitcase. Although the suitcase is thought to hold a large amount of cash, it is only a red herring and even though the cover blurb declares that this is "a murder mystery," no one is actually murdered. A robbery suspect is killed inadvertently by a cop who means to "wing" him when he runs, but this is described after the fact.

Plot Summary

Private investigator Mac meets a woman named Cress Fanio who tells him that three men have been trying to kill her in order to get a suitcase entrusted to her by her boyfriend, folk singer Richie Darden. Mac is skeptical, but returns with Cress to her apartment where they are attacked by three men. The attackers are repelled after a fierce struggle and Mac later identifies one of the men from a police photo array. He finds the man, but is unable to learn why the suitcase is wanted. It is very light and Mac's police friend, Kegs, suggests that "heroin don't weigh much," but Mac won't open the suitcase because Cress promised Richie that she wouldn't. Returning to their hotel, Mac and Cress are picked up by the police and taken to a hospital where they find Roger Semple, Cress's boss. Semple was savagely beaten by two men because he could not tell them where Cress was. The police question and search Mac and Cress, but Cress manages to hide the suitcase. Searching for Richie now, Cress and Mac embark on the folk circuit from Chicago to Fairmont, Indiana, visiting coffeehouses and hootenannies along the way. The pair is attacked outside one such club and Cress is abducted. The kidnappers tell Mac that the price of her life is the suitcase. Piecing together clues, Mac eventually subdues and cuffs the pursuers, and during the struggle the suitcase bursts open -- it has been empty all along. Mac tells a disillusioned Cress that Richie had her carry the suitcase so that his robbery partners would follow her instead of him. When a police officer arrives, the officer informs Mac that he saw Richie at the farm two days earlier and when Richie attempted to flee, he shot him. The officer had merely intended to wound Richie, but the shot proved fatal. Cress is sad, but on the way home, she and Mac stop at a caf where people recognize her and Mac watches with a father's pride as Cress performs a song about the pain of love, adding an improvised verse about her dead lover.

Major Characters

Mac "Mac" is all that he is called, middle-aged, big, strong, durable, high pain threshold; handles himself professionally in physical altercations, former police officer now a private investigator

Richard Darden "Richie," adult male, Irish-American, 25 years old, handsome, muscular, thick black hair, dark eyes and an "Irish smile," good voice; folksinger until he commits a robbery and becomes a fugitive

Crescentia Fanio "Cress," adolescent female, Italian-American, slim, long dyed blonde hair, long slim face, dark eyes and brows, good singing voice, waitress in a Chicago coffeehouse and folk club

Roger Semple adult male, 30 years old, married, ordinary appearance until savagely beaten by thugs, owner of a folk club

Reuben (one name only), adult male, "six feet, four and rangy, with long arms and legs. He wore jeans and a sweater, and his hair was long and combed straight back from his face, which was lean and square-jawed, with a prominent nose." Charismatic Pete Seeger-like figure who encourages Cress to sing.

Sergeant "Kegs" Schnell adult male, heavy-set, an acquaintance of Mac's from his days on the force, World War II veteran. Unlike Mac, he regards the young folksingers with distrust, calling them "Commies."

Carryl Borchard adult male, "twenty-two, five ten and a half, one forty-five pounds, black hair, dark eyes, tending to be shadowed." Attacks Mac, but Mac warns him off without pressing charges against him.


Mac has his own licensed .38 caliber revolver; he expropriates another one from one of the three hoodlums. Cress has a stiletto strapped to her thigh under her skirt for protection. Fist violence and hand-to-hand combat occur in several intense scenes.

Level of Violence

realistic violence rendered with a dispassionate quality. Although Mac's violent encounters are described without embellishment, their high adrenalin content is conveyed: "We were both shaking like leaves in the wind. I didn't dare stick my finger inside the trigger guard for fear of squeezing off unintentionally."


sexuality is in the background. Mac is heterosexual but has a fatherly relationship with Cress. The only people who impute sexual motivations to him are the police who thinly imply that there is a sexual relationship between Mac and Cress (they have adjoining rooms at the hotel.)

Gender Roles

Mac likes and admires strong women; he refers to Cress as "a hell of a woman," and appreciates her spirit, as when she insists on accompanying him after strapping a stiletto to her thigh. However, as much as he respects Cress, he feels that she needs protection -- she does -- that is what she hired him for. She is seventeen and alone in the world; Mac would sooner die than betray her trust. Mac does more than physically protect her; he nurtures her by showing appreciation and interest in her growing musical talent. He also gives back her retainer early on, explaining that she will need it if they are separated. Mac is a chivalrous tough guy, but though he is tough and competent, Mac realizes that this is potential suicide ("You act like a man trying out for hero of the century.") Physically, Mac is durable and brave, brave enough to appreciate people for what they are or for what they are trying to become.


Mac does not condone racism. He helps eject a drunk at a folk club when the drunk heckles a black singer. The drunk offers to sing "nigger songs" too, if he is given the "banjo" (a guitar). Mac employs some ethnic stereotypes ("Richie Darden has an 'Irish smile'"), but Mac is far too intelligent and objective to pigeonhole people on the basis of race. He is interested in the differences in human beings, not just the common denominators.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

drinking is not an observable activity since most of the action occurs at folk clubs that serve only coffee. Mac has one beer for protective coloration during a tense stakeout. The heckler at the Open Grave Caf is the only drunk Mac and Cress encounter during their odyssey, and he is an object of disdain. Mac and Cress do not witness any drug usage, although drugs were no doubt accessible in the folk circuit of the 1960s. Sergeant "Kegs" Schnell suspects that drugs are in Cress's suitcase ("heroin don't weigh much"), and he also asks Cress if she knows what "pot" is, undoubtedly seeking a guilt reaction. Schnell definitely views drug possession or usage as a crime.

Law Enforcement

The police have a somewhat adversarial relationship with private investigators, but Mac is an odd case since he was once a member of the force. When Sergeant Schnell talks to Mac, his tone is initially bantering, not badgering. Schnell even talks shop at first, telling departmental anecdotes to Mac. When Mac disagrees with him about something, however, Schnell threatens to have his license pulled. The country cops encountered at the Open Grave Caf are equally fascistic. They are frustrated when they are compelled to take a drunk to the drunk tank; preferring to arrest beatniks and folksingers, perhaps implying that even when the police are not actively corrupt, their effectiveness is compromised by their self-appointed role as watchdogs of the status quo.

Added Features

humor plays a role; Mac can be sarcastic or even silly, but usually the humor is understated or unexpected. The main social concern seems to be the advent of disaffected youth of various types, mostly folkies and beatniks. Mac attempts to meet these kids at least half way. He is a compassionate man, not a kid, but he seeks understanding and experiences a moment of epiphany when Cress's song brings tears to his eyes. The cops, on the other hand, regard the new music with suspicion as a tool used to disseminate Communist propaganda.

Subject Headings

Illinois - Chicago/ Indiana/ Kidnapping/ Detectives, Private/ Singers/ Robbery/ Police

Psychological Elements

the tone of the novel is that of lurking menace because the men who pursue Cress are relentless, creating a situation that evokes justifiable paranoia because someone really is out to get Mac and Cress. The robbers are desperate men, a long way from "regular folks," and Mac is the immovable object to their irresistable force; he matches his determination to protect Cress against their desire for the suitcase. Mac assumes a fatherly role toward Cress which is heightened by the beatnik jargon -- Cress calls Mac "Daddy," a joke that carries emotional truth.