Fingerprints of Armless Mike
(Originally published by Warner Books October 1996)
So what is this book with the strange title? And who’s Mike? Is he really armless? Is this some kind of gruesome tale? Horror? Sci-fi?
Hardly. Fingerprints of Armless Mike is Thomas William Simpson’s amusing, fast moving romp about love, lust, greed, and grand larceny.
He was a rolling stone, cool and easy. She was pure Miss Porter, proper and maybe a tad… snooty. But somehow, up in the Prosperous, Monied Hills of Affluent NJ, the two came together. Kissed and laughed and fell in love.
But now he’s robbed her mother blind and disappeared into the night.
What everyone wants to know: did he do it for true love or did he do it for the money?
Some people know him as Mike Standish, others as Mike Standowski. But right now no one knows where is he and only a few know why he has suddenly vanished. His lovely young wife, Sarah Louise Browne, knows. His rich, hard-hearted mother-in-law, “Iron Kate,” knows. So does Mike’s best buddy, Graham Cramer, who wishes he’d never introduced Mike to Sarah.
The trouble starts, of course, when Mike is forced to live under his mother-in-law’s roof and prying eyes. Iron Kate will not let Mike forget for a second he was born on the wrong side of the tracks. So finally, after one too many slurs, Mike puts a very simple plan into motion. He backs a rental truck up to the back door of Kate’s hilltop mansion and fills it with her most valuable antiques.
Too bad Mike leaves his fingerprints behind.
Now on the lam in the Bahamas, Mike is forced to take a hard look at his life and his relationship with the woman he loves and has now betrayed. As Mike desperately tries to find a way out of the mess he’s created, and as his pursuers close in, an epic storm descends upon the islands. And in the eye of Hurricane Bertha, the man who has never really been entirely honest about anything in his life, may finally discover the truth… and a terrible way out of his predicament.
If he survives the onslaught.
A novel that combines John Irving’s quirky sense of humor, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s outlandish sense of adventure, and Stephen Birmingham’s razor sharp insights into the American Monied Class, Fingerprints of Armless Mike proves once again why Thomas William Simpson has been called one of the most creative and captivating storytellers of our time.
After the intense, hard fought battle of Full Moon Over America, I needed something lighter, and more amusing. I was, at that time, involved with a young lady who was part of the horsey set. I attended lavish parties in immodest mansions attended by some of the flushest folks in the country. Trust me, they were not all snobs. But one or two, especially those whose greenbacks were more recently acquired, usually through the shysterism of Wall Street, liked to put on the dog. Some had even had their beaks trimmed and curled skyward into a perpetual air of snootiness.
I found it all highly entertaining.
And then one sultry summer evening I met the tobacco heiress who lived in grand style. Not a single day in her life had she done a lick of work or achieved anything of any real import, but oh my goodness how self-righteous and full of hot air was that old dame.
Iron Kate was born.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like money. My family had some. I’ve had some a couple times in my march through adulthood. I can consume non essentials with the best of them when the cash lies about in extra large heaps. But I’ve also born witness to the comical phenomenon of humans who think their stool doesn’t stink simply because they have a wallet stuffed with Fat Jack.
Fingerprints of Armless Mike is really only concerned with the well-heeled in a superficial way. It’s mostly about Mike, another of my alter egos, but also, in my eyes, an American Everyman. Mike, at the onset, is a simple, happy guy who likes nothing better than a good time, a grand adventure, a pretty girl on his arm. But America, in the end, is all about the Money. The Cold Hard Cash. The Moolah. The Fat Jack. The Oil of the Palm. Either you have it or you want it. There is no in between and unfortunately really no other measure of success.
And so Mike, who had never really spent much time thinking about money, and even less time pursuing it, suddenly finds himself surrounded by the stuff. And he realizes his bride, the girl he loves, is awash in Greenbacks. She might say otherwise but she lives and breaths Federal Reserve Notes. She may tell her man she couldn’t care less about the dough but this is mere self-delusion. Sarah was born into money and without it she will cease to exist.
All of this soon dawns on Mike, and so he does what American men have been doing since the dawn of the Great Age of Consumerism overtook us a couple generations ago: he concocts a plan to get his piece of the pie. Sure, Mike’s solution is rather desperate, to say nothing of illegal, but doesn’t a sense of desperation dominate the vocational choices of most of us?
A cautionary tale, Fingerprints of Armless Mike, now more than twenty years in my rearview mirror, was maybe my first attempt to make sense of what it might mean to actually pursue a life worth living.
A strong narrative voice, a sure sense of storytelling and a bedeviling dash of surprise invigorate Simpson's (Full Moon Over America) tale of a man on the run. Mike Standish, a self-described "dirty old Polack" from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., narrates this novel belly-up to a bar in remote Devil's Cay in the Bahamas. After a few failed romances, we learn, Mike fell in love with and married Sarah Browne, a New Jersey blueblood of the purest stock. The couple's marriage became a sticking point when they were forced to move in with Iron Kate, Sarah's rigid, caste-obsessed mother, who developed an unholy distaste for Mike and what she saw as his gold-digging charm. Goaded by Kate's insinuations, Mike decided to establish his new family in a home of their own. To do so, he secretly hocked Kate's collection of antiques, fleeing the country when his fingerprints on the goods threatened to disclose his involvement. As Mike ruminates on the past, he reveals his yearning for his wife, whom he hopes will come searching for him, and reflects on the role his lust for sex and money played in his turn to crime. Stuck in a hurricane, plagued by loneliness and self-doubt, Mike tells a pungent tale that deftly caricatures how a man can be freewheeling, wily and noble all at the same time. Author tour.