Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Monkey's Raincoat

The Monkey's Raincoat - Robert Crais

Hollywood; sentences with the ends bitten off, sharply; drugs; sleazy producers; desperate actresses; vietnam vets; coffee drinking cops; swimming pools; marble floors; mafiosi; broken fists; broken ribs; broken worse than that; bad jokes; tai chai; yoga; rye bread; kidnapping; women balanced for hair colour and race; studio lots; dead fish and a particularly large Eskimo.

These are only a few of the ingredients in the first Elvis Cole novel and the debt to the master chef of such cuisine, Elmore Leonard, is acknowledged. Elvis reads some of his books, over and over.

At first I wasn't sure if I would like Elvis Cole enough to want to hang out with him but by the end I was enjoying this cartoon PI doing all the things a good Shamus should, from going pro bono (that doesn't mean he likes U2) when it looks like the dame is broke to having a total inability to resist a wisecrack even when he knows it may have a damaging effect on some part of his anatomy.

There are awkward moments in the writing and the attempt to write a character who tries it on with any presentable female within eyesight but still try to present him as caring come off as a bit half cocked. But at least we don't get into bed with him for naff descriptions of his prowess. Crais has him sound more sexist at the beginning in order to have him seem ok by the end. Listen to this for stiff dialogue as he tries to explain a comment early on: "If the sexual nature of my comment surprised you it's only because I needed to be shocking to get your attention."

At times  I wondered if Crais had struck some product placement deals with car and gun manufacturers. But I guess that's a kind of trademark of crime novels, there's a lot of fetish objects out there. Ian Fleming has a lot to answer for.

Crais scatters bits and pieces of info about Cole and his partner Joe Pike throughout, leaving many trails to be followed in later books. He also has a friend on the force, Lou Poitras who is one of the books oversized characters, a trait Crais tries to describe with Chandleresque flair
"Lou Poitras has a face like a frying pan and a back as wide as a Coupe De Ville. His arms are so swollen by the weights he pumps they look like fourteen pound hams squeezed into his sleeves. He has a scar breaking the hairline above his left eye where a guy who should've known better got silly and laid a jack handle. It lent him character."
It's not fair to Crais but it made me search out Chandler on a similar theme. "He was a big man but not more than six foot five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers. ... he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food."

Crais knows his crime writing and references it. It's snappy and fun. Beside Chandler it's a bit like pastiche, beside James Ellroy it's a bit irrelevant ... BUT ... it's not too taxing to read. I may read some more. It's more likely that I'll reread a few Chandlers.

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