This sardonic private eye novel arrives from those very nice people at Stark House Press in an edition bringing together a trio of 1950s Noirs by Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) with an introduction by Bill Pronzini. Our narrator, Perceval “Percy” Hand, is hired to find a missing wife, who may or may not in fact be missing – everybody thinks she ran off with her lover, but neither of them has been heard from in nearly two years. Her husband now wants to marry again and his new girlfriend wants to know where she stands …
I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“Well, I never heard the like. A man’s wife disappears. He doesn’t care. A man’s foster brother disappears. He doesn’t care. The indifference fascinates me.”
The basic premise, with its chivalric if not always chivalrous hero, owes more than a passing resemblance to Chandler’s The Big Sleep, with the missing couple at its centre highly reminiscent of Rusty Reagan and Mona Mars from that classic book. In addition, we also have a crooked-but-nice blackmailing couple named Colly and Rosie who resemble Chandler’s equally ill-fated Agnes and small-time hood Harry, while Mona’s husband, nightclub owner and gangster Eddie Mars, seems to have been the inspiration for the piano-playing heavy, Silas Lawler, found here. But this is nothing if not a somewhat self-conscious take on the genre, and all the better for it. The beautiful Faith Salem plans to marry well, but to do so wants Percy to find the current if absent wife of her rich boyfriend, a woman she used to know in college. Hand is honest and basically honourable, very much a knight-errant in the Marlowe tradition (as his full name might suggest in fact) and is always highly susceptible to the ladies. He may have some ideals but is not naive, all of which is conveyed in an often amused commentary on the language, tropes and motifs of the detective genre. Here for instance is a typical exchange between Percy and a femme fatale:
“I’ve always wanted to kiss a man as ugly as you,” she said. “It wasn’t bad.”
“Thanks”, I said. “I’ve had worse myself.”
The plot is neat and well worked out and the general avoidance of violence is very welcome (well, minus a nasty beating our hero submits to at the hand of a well-spoken hood named Darcy – a Jane Austen fan, perhaps?). In addition there is a particularly nice surprise saved for the final section of the book, after four rather nasty murders are uncovered, when all the strands are brought together in a place called Amity. And don’t be put off by the publisher-imposed title (Flora preferred ‘Loose Ends’ which is much better), this is a breezy, well plotted 1950s private eye novel with a minimum of sex and violence and a maximum of wit and intelligence – highly recommended. I’ll be reviewing the other Flora titles in this volume shortly.
Incidentally, Peter Rozovsky’s review at Detectives Beyond Borders is well worth checking out. This fine edition, with a brief but typically informed and informative overview of the author’s career by Bill Pronzini, is another great triple bill from Stark House Press, who supplied the review copy and for which many thanks – it’s a keeper.
Leave Her to Hell / Let Me Kill You Sweetheart / Take Me Home
By Fletcher Flora
ISBN: 978-1-933586-95-3 (paperback), 262 pages, $20.95
I submit this reviews for Bev’s Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the ‘just one person’ category: