Not your typical lost luggage story

A review of The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris

There are few literary mysteries as elusive as the loss of a valise containing all of Ernest Hemingway’s early manuscripts, stolen from a Paris train in 1922 and never seen again. The fate of the manuscripts, coupled with Hemingway’s larger than life persona, has proven irresistible to writers since. Wisconsin-based author Shaun Harris takes on the tale in his assured debut novel The Hemingway Thief, a caper with enough odd characters and close shaves to rival any tale that the larger-than-life-Hemingway could have concocted. 

Henry ‘Coop’ Cooper is trying to relax at the ramshackle sea-side hotel on a Baja beach with hotel owner Grady. Coop has been contemplating killing off his romance-writing nom de plume and writing ‘real’ stories when, as if on cue, a story lands in his lap—or rather, a drunk grifter named Ebbie Milch does. Milch weaves a tale so improbable it must be true. His long-dead uncle knew Hemingway in Paris, and to prove it Milch has an original draft of A Moveable Feast. But more importantly, that same uncle had the lost manuscripts in his possession, and squirreled them away in his hovel in the Sierra Madres. Grady knows the manuscripts could be worth millions, and Coop knows he can make a bestseller out of Milch’s story. Trouble is, they’re not the only ones who know what the valise is worth, and in the Sierra Madres, there isn’t a lot of law enforcement presence to ensure that everyone is on their best behavior. Coop and Grady are joined by the ever-resourceful man Friday Digby in a race to find the suitcase first, and it soon becomes obvious to everyone that they’re in over their heads as the world’s second-best hitman tries to get them in the crosshairs. Double crossing, double-double crossing, shootouts and general mayhem commences. Harris keeps his action moving blithely along, his characters exchanging quips and bullets with ease, but still attains a sense of poignancy by the end. 

Harris gives a nod to old fashioned film westerns, drops references to Mustafa, Obi Wan Kenobi and other pop icons, but the story is fresh and his heroes (and indeed most of the villains) are worth cheering for. Fans of Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard should take note. The Hemingway Thief is a strong debut, and it will be exciting to see what Harris will write next.