It isn’t just the natural world that is richly described, but also the iconic places that the characters visit, from the Saydnaya convent in Damascus to the Rabat Priory in Malta, along with the many paintings and sculptures, all described with the kind of meticulous detail that helps the reader sympathise with the love that Jana has for the places and work.
There are few things scarier than an evil clown, but coupled with a broken promise, a lost child, black and white film reels, a shipwreck, bad dreams, and a series of slightly Satanic symbols, the story takes on a serious resonance.
Why should one read The Big Sleep today? Well, first there is the story: it is a thrilling ride. Then there is the quality of Chandler’s prose, his much vaunted style, which still impresses (though its downbeat and bathetic vibe is occasionally imitative of Hemingway).
Hussey has been kind to the reader by slicing his novel into bed-time-reading sized chapters. But unless you like your nightmares to be as ‘jittery as a dog full of fleas’ then read Through a Glass Darkly on a bright summer’s day.
What makes this book work so well is how it moves beyond genre, to illuminate a critical period in his hero’s life, showing just how the warmth and honesty in his family life have given rise to an integrity which makes him more than simply a clever detective. His character creates a theme that works throughout all of the Gus LeGarde books, and, I suspect, a theme that may well be present in all of Lazar’s work.
The stories are indeed rather special and they develop the crime genre in a fascinating direction. Owen Keane fulfils many of the roles of a priest – he offers pastoral care to his “parishioners” and feels an imperative to save or rescue them. More often than not, it is he who decides when and how to offer help, responding to a need that is not apparent to others.
All twelve are solid detective stories, the solutions often hingeing on a new understanding of the original situation, an inconspicuous fact being recognised as crucially significant. However, it is the entertaining historical background that Powell provides for San Sebastiano which raises these tales above the rest.
The real attraction of the book is – and this quality it shares with the other Gus LaGarde books – the charm of the author and the opportunity for the reader to share in a gracious life built on warm relations with family and friends. The joys of the table and the love of music and the appreciation of the quiet joys of reading embrace an ideal but not impossible world.
This is a crime novel that has some fine deadpan humour, a poignant romance – Ryan falls for a young woman who has problems with the bottle – and also has elements of the Western. Ryan is a kind of latter-day bounty hunter.
There are echoes of crime fiction of the past – one wonderful minor character, Doc Oldham, could have stepped off the pages of at least two William Riley Burnett novels – and a gamut of genre pleasures. The greatest pleasure, though, is in how the story unfolds. It is an exercise in enchantment.