Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Book With the Deep Dark Noir

The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes
by Lawrence Block
Hard Case Crime

4 out of 5 movies on TCM.

The title of this one makes it sound as if Lisbeth Salander and Travis McGee had a baby, but it’s far more like James Cain than Stieg Larsson or John D. MacDonald. Actually, let’s just skip the comparisons and say that it’s 100% Lawrence Block, and his fans know that this is a very good thing. 

Doak Miller is a retired NYPD detective who moved to Florida where he now does the odd job as a private detective. A local sheriff has gotten word that beautiful Lisa has tried to hire a hit man to do away with her wealthy husband, and now the sheriff asks Doak to meet with Lisa as the hired killer to record evidence of her conspiracy to commit murder. However, Doak becomes infatuated with Lisa’s picture and instead cooks up a way to warn her off which is the start of a steamy affair between the two of them. It’s also got Doak thinking of ways that he could actually pull off the murder so that he and Lisa could get all that money. 

That sounds like a familiar set-up, but this isn’t just your typical story of the adulterous couple trying to kill off a spouse. From it’s traditional start the story morphs into what would can only be described as metafiction in the way that Doak acknowledges that he’s essentially living in a noir story as he watches movies like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings while planning his crime. (I’m a little surprised that Body Heat wasn’t mentioned because the plot, Florida setting, and steamy sex scenes seem like it’d be a natural one to bring up, but maybe Block was worried about Doak catching that one on TCM.)

However, this never feels like a flashy gimmick because it’s a compelling story told to us from the third party perspective of Doak. At first it seems like Doak could be another version of Block’s Matt Scudder. A retired police detective with some some regrets about his past living a low-rent life as he works as a PI is very Scudder-esque, but Doak is a different kind of animal which we learn from his willingness to turn killer as well as his interactions with Lisa and other women.

Those interactions include several graphic sexual encounters. Block has never been shy about throwing kinky scenes into some of his books, and as the cover indicates this one has no shortage of them. He uses them very effectively to a way of establishing Doak’s character as well as providing a believable twisted bond between him and Lisa beyond just some kind of insta-love thing which probably would have seemed hokey. Despite the lurid potential of some of this Block does a great job of portraying it in a matter of fact way that trusts that his characters and readers are adults who can handle it.

This is a master crime writer doing a sharp and clever take on noir tropes, and it’s a great read for fans of the genre.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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