The influence of Chandler initially looms large in this highly enjoyable private eye novel but this eventually proves itself to be a pretty distinctive performance, not least for its Montreal setting. This was the book that launched the Ricochet Series of vintage Canadian Noir mysteries from Véhicule Press and was recommended to me by the series’ editor, Brian Busby, who also provided a forward. The protagonist is Russell Teed, an investigator who usually deals with insurance fraud but here has to deal with lots and lots of murders.
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“A broken nose gives a face a lived-in look”
The novel begins very much in the style of Chandler’s 1939 classic, The Big Sleep: our narrator, a tough private investigator, is called to the house of one of the wealthiest families in town and is tasked by its ageing head with dealing with an embarrassing letter involving its female heir, whose husband has also recently gone missing. To save her from getting involved in a murder, the PI spirits her from the crime scene and then tries to extricate her and gets involved with hardened gangsters running a racket and a pair of scheming women. However, the plot soon goes its own sweet way after the detective finds the missing husband dead in the family apartment in town – and then, a few hours later, apparently finds the body again dozens of miles away on an island cabin in the middle of a lake and killed in a similar fashion though the bullet holes are now in different places!
“I ‘ave to make to you an apology besides. You were right. Undoubtedly the men were doubles. It is, you would say, huncanny.”
The book is a bit overlong and overly elaborate for its plot, making its many contrivances (which would be more acceptable in a more artificial ‘cosy’) stand out that much more (the rationale for the use of the double for instance is completely unconvincing), and Teed conveniently arrives at the right time and at the right place just too many times. It also frequently strains too hard to make the hardboiled dialogue humorous, though some of it is amusing even if it lacks the ease and finesse of a Hammett or Chandler. Also, the franglais that it bestows on Framboise, the hard-headed and violent French-speaking policeman heading the investigation, can be a bit grating (especially, as Busby points out in his intro, this is otherwise a curiously Anglo-only story). On the other hand the Montreal topology and atmosphere is unusual and refreshing, leading to some really interesting linguistic quirks, like the chapters being referred to as ‘scenes’ and the now slightly startling repeated use of ‘frig’ as an abbreviation for frigidaire (i.e. fridge).
“I watched the cigarette ash. It skitted across the polished top of the dark mahogany table like a tumbleweed, and then collapsed in a timid little heap of grey dust.”
So, what we have then is an unsual and entertaining hardboiled mystery with a decent if over-extended plot (which si why I am not saying much about it) with some unusual wrinkles – well worth a few hours of your time, and thanks to Brian for directing me to it. Incidentally, you should check out his blog, The Dusty Bookcase.
Here is the back cover blurb from the first edition:
There were two blondes and a brunette. One of them had killed John Sark. Detective Sergeant Framboise thought it was Inez Sark. Inez had left her parents’ thirty-five room shack in Westmount to marry John Sark, the biggest bootlegger Montreal had ever known. That, said Framboise, was in itself motive enough. But Russell Teed knew that there was an earlier Mrs. Sark who had an even better motive. East Side, west side, all over town Russ chased clues, trying to keep the gorgeous Inez out of jail. If he had to shoot up a couple of characters and bust up a drug ring in his search to lay bare Sark’s lovelife, well, that was all part of the service of Russell Teed Investigations.
David Montrose was the pen name of Charles Ross Graham (1920-1969) and thus I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘pseudonym’ category: