28 May 2009

Double dose of P.I.

I am always interested in the "hard-boiled" P.I., and I finally got around to reading a couple of paperbacks that I'd accumulated within the last year. The first was Act of Fear (1967) by "Michael Collins" (Dennis Lynds), featuring Dan Fortune, the one-armed detective. The second was The Lime Pit (1980) by Jonathan Valin, featuring Cincinnati detective Harry Stoner. Both stories were the first in a series, Stoner appearing in ten more novels and Fortune in another sixteen. Of the two, I liked the Lynds book the best--it was shorter more tightly plotted. Both gumshoes, in the hard-boiled P.I. tradition, mused on life and love while solving the crime. Fortune was less wordy than Stoner, and kept his philosophical preachings brief. Another point in his favor. Mr. Valin's work suffered a bit from too many adjectives and adverbs, a pet peeve with me, especially in a noir novel. Mr. Lynds created a somber atmosphere with his re-creation of the Chelsea district of Manhattan that seemed to infuse the story with dread. I have been to Chelsea, and actually walked the streets there, and NYC is big and bad and infamous, so perhaps he had an easier task. The Stoner book was set in Cincy, and there are lots of references to streets and neighborhoods, but much of the action takes place in the neighboring town of Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River. Newport is morally "on the other side" for the genteel Cincy residents, where gambling and whoring and whatnot take place under a lax legal system. Valin uses that motif nicely, and Stoner has to do the real ugly work in Newport. Both books are very much in the Chandler tradition, with the loner/outsider detective struggling to make sense of a crazy world, and fighting to right a wrong just because, well, that's just what they do.

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