Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Fabulous Clipjoint

By the time Fredric Brown wrote this, his first full novel, he had already been a prolific contributor to the pulp mags of the 1930s & 40s, turning in works across multiple genres from Sci-fi to Noir. The Fabulous Clipjoint duly won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and introduced a popular pair of would be detectives, Ed & Ambrose Hunter, that would feature in a further six novels. Ed is an 18 year old living in Chicago with his father, step mother and teenage step sister. His hum drum existence as a printer working at the same firm as his father by day and dreaming of becoming a jazz musician by night is shattered when his father is found dead, murdered in a dark alley in a seedy part of town. Teaming up with his Uncle, a carnival worker and ex private dick, who he hasn't seen for a decade, Ed vows to track down the killer. Brown has a unique approach to writing noir that surely shouldn't work. He manages to evoke a gritty, shadowy world filled with suspense, while also maintaining a streak of humour that runs throughout. It's both a crime story and a coming of age story as Ed follows what leads they have, while discovering how little he really knew about his own father from the stories Am tells. Brown's playfullness with the narrative comes to the fore in the scenes where Ed does a spot of roleplay, playing a sharp-suited gun killer with an imaginary gun as they try to bluff info out of suspects. And it's smooth. Brown's first person narrative and snappy dialogue just roll through the mind. It's not short of detail either with Ambrose's sometimes off the wall observations fuelled by the author's own wide experience ranging from the nature of handbags to the basic physical structure of the universe, carney lingo, pop culture references, Jazz, movies, books etc. There are clever little touches like Ed ordering "Rye," from the bartender because he'd seen George Raft order it in the 1935 version of The Glass Key but getting Dutch courage not from a stiff drink but rather from the Juke box and the high wail of Benny Goodman's clarinet. After reading several ultra cynical modern day noir novels recently it was refreshing to see that even during the golden age of the genre Noir wasn't always entirely bleak, cold and black.

No comments:

Post a Comment