Some of it has an edge – to be absolutely just – but I think even Johnson himself lost interest in it, characters and story, the whole shebang, way before the close. The novel sputters to an end.
Besides being a very fine mystery, Stout’s novel is as well a provocative meditation on contemporary history. He reminds us that the primary source for the recent past lies in the memories of the living. Such memories, fragile as they are, may indeed be the only resource, if you want to challenge the written record.
All the characters are terrific, utterly convincing; there is an authentic sense of place: Chelsea, N.Y., a blue-collar neighbourhood where authority figures, police officers most of all, are treated with suspicion; and there’s Fortune’s voice, streetwise but by no means hard-boiled, compassionate yet missing nowt. And with a nice line in epigrams: ‘A man in prison needs a human word.’ ‘Unanswered questions are like lurking monsters.’
Without wishing it to sound anything like routine: another extraordinary novel from James Sallis.
This one, like many of his others, is hard to pin down exactly. Paranormal, science-fiction and metaphysical elements vie within a crime story a la Savage Night, about a hitman on his last job. Perhaps that catch-all label ‘slipstream’ will have to cover it.
Though solving the crime does certainly drive the narrative pace in The Lost Girls, this book is a rich, dense novel, that goes so much deeper than whodunit. As is almost always the case with Wendy James, her blockbuster, airport styled covers belie the fact that this is as much literary fiction as it is a crime novel, driven, above all, by character development and exquisite writing.
It is not a conventional crime novel by any means, but then you wouldn’t expect convention from Sallis. The horrors are to be read, in part, in the voice: disconnected, spare, skittish, lambent, haunted. In part they’re there in the portrait of an alternative present or a credible near-future: a world where America has a black woman president, where acts of terrorism are common and the weather weirdly erratic.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to read everything that Hammett has written, but be warned that this is not literature, simply because language doesn’t set out to do everything. Then again, screen stories like these (and The Third Man by Graham Greene is another example) are an interesting genre, primarily for what they might reveal about the writer.
There is a (slight) postmodern knowingness to it all (Anders, the narrator, is a literary critic after all, and alludes to other writers within his own anxious tale) but Cook delivers a good story, no worries. At one point Anders is compared to Nick Charles, one of Hammett’s PIs, but he was probably named more with Marlowe in mind (and, yes, Heart of Darkness is one of the works that Anders alludes to).
Within deWitt’s book there’s also a side-text about the destruction of the balance of nature and the consequences of a rabid search for gold, whether it be black gold or the original deal, as here. In the end, it’s all fool’s. And on a cheerier note: Yes, brushing your teeth can be an ineffable delight, truly.
One advantage of Steel’s characterization is that we have been spared an extended description and explanation of her taste in music, food or clothes. And nor have we been presented with the odd zany detail: Steel does not have a troupe of cats named after jazz greats, for example, or a friend with a predilection for t-shirts with ‘amusing’ slogans.