by Evan Guilford-Blake
Review: A young woman hires private investigator Robert Grahame to find her brother, Dan Scott, who was traveling from Seattle to Los Angeles but never arrived, a case he'd turn down if it weren't for the $500 retainer she gives him, in Noir(ish), a novella by Evan Guilford-Blake.
Lizabeth Duryea tells a compelling story, but Grahame is a professional and the first rule of being in the PI business is, the client always lies. About what, and whether or not it's important to the case, is the first order of business. Before Lizabeth leaves the office she hands him a small package for safekeeping … and in hardly no time at all, he's paid a visit by two thugs looking for that very same package. He denies having it, he and his office are roughed up, but they leave empty-handed. Then out of the blue Dan Scott calls him to set up a meeting, and hours later his secretary is murdered. Could this case get any stranger? Grahame couldn't begin to imagine in what ways it would.
The parenthetical portion of this novella's title is presumably meant to imply that the narrative would pay homage to the classic noir novels of the 1930s and 1940s while still retaining its own identity. If so, then it succeeds … but only to a point. The time and place are right, and there are numerous references to historical figures of the period as well as fictional figures from the literature. And the characters are, for the most part, right as well. But the atmospheric sense of "noir" is lacking here; Noir(ish) seems to be written in a somewhat harsh light, not the nuanced grays that are the hallmark of great noir crime fiction. It's hard to define, but a reader knows it when it's present … and when it's not.
Where the "ish" really comes into play, however, is in how the storyline unfolds. Some readers may delight in the twist — most noir novels have a twist of some sort, so it isn't a surprise to find one here, too — while others will no doubt feel cheated. To be fair, the twist is cleverly foreshadowed but it still seems totally, almost uncomfortably, out of place here; that "ish" in the title should have come with its own "ish" or asterisk or something to advise the reader that this really, really is not a typical Dashielle Hammett or Raymond Chandler-style crime novella.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided an eARC of Noir(ish) for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Noir(ish): Los Angeles, California
— ♦ —
Noir(ish) by Evan Guilford-Blake
Publisher: Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries
Publication Date: September 2012
List Price: $3.99