Mine’s a Death Black Espresso, Please.
The streets are of the meanest. The weather is of the vilest. The bars are revolting or vulgar or both. The liquor bites back. The villains are grotesque and very mean. The heavies are beyond description. The women are quite utterly fatale. The dicks have constant hangovers and terrible dietary habits. Climaxes are carmine.
In Paul Brazill’s Gumshoe and Roman Dalton – Werewolf PI, our jaded and cynical detectives pursue . . . but, frankly, my dear . . . do we really give a damn? Is that what it’s about? Well, yes, at a certain level. Story lines tangle and writhe like cans of hissing snakes. Somebody needs to be found. Somebody wants revenge. The city is threatened by a REALLY bad person. The dogged gumshoe WILL BE BETRAYED. But you can’t help thinking that the joy of these stories lies elsewhere: in the settings (can they get any grosser?); in the sheer inventive bravura of events and personages; in the brisk, acerbic, and funny dialogue; and in the narrators’ inventive language.
Paul Brazill pulls out all the stops and hits all the right notes in the lurid stories that make up these volumes. The language bristles and crackles with more figurative language than a lyric poem. Dalton (werewolf and PI – now there’s fusion cooking for you) digs up his stories “from some murky hinterland somewhere on the outskirts of honesty.” Onstage in “The Pink Pussy” (well, yes) “partially clad young women slid around like spaghetti on an alcoholic’s plate.” Duffy’s bar is “a rogue lighthouse guiding [its punters] toward the rocks.” In Gumshoe, a nightclub manager has a face with “that scrubbed-by-a-Brillo Pad look favoured by football managers like Sir Alex Ferguson.” And – oh, those femmes! – “Angie’s smile was like the froth on a cappuccino. It softened and took the edge off the darkness and bitterness beneath it.” Though, of course, the narrator adds: “Well, if you didn’t know her.”
Actually, Brazill is making some serious points about hard-boiled crime fiction – about how the plots aren’t necessarily what it’s all about – it’s the language, stupid; about the proximity of noir and Gothic; about the way in which the genre colonizes your imagination, despite its closeness (there from the start) to self-parody; about how the mean streets can be anywhere – The City or Seatown (“this fading one-whore-town on the north east coast of England”) – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s urban and nasty. The gumshoe in Gumshoe speaks for many: “Truth be told, my most vivid and powerful memories of childhood were all in black and white” – that is, in Hollywood noirs.
Gumshoe and Roman Dalton – Werewolf PI are wonderful espresso riffs. No cappuccino froth. Buy them, read them, enjoy them.