Sunday, July 27, 2014


I keep thinking that I’m going to tumble into the crime lit/noir lit void that has engulfed so much of my reading-minded friends and acquaintances’ time, but there always seems to be something else I wanna read. My pal Danny P’s been balancing acres of the hardboiled 30s-50s stuff w/ modern crime writers like Megan Abbot and the oft-celebrated Scandinavians quite well, and his diligence to the form kind of makes me jealous. These crime books can usually be torn through in three sittings, less if you’re childless, and the sense of accomplishment therewith is at least half the price of admission. The Los Angeles Review of Books crime novel editor, a longtime friend as well, recently asked me to try my hand at submitting reviews there, assuming me to be a member of the hardboiled tribe. I had to decline on account of barely knowing my Willefords from my Thompsons (pretty much the only two genre writers I’ve read), but directed her to her cousin-in-law instead, who just happens to be the aforementioned Danny P, and who’s now ably writing there in my stead.

What does this have to do with Kim Cooper’s excellent recent LA-based 1920s noir? Well, I finally read one, didn’t I? I know Kim as well – she was one of the first contributors to my early 90s fanzine Superdope; I contributed to her “Lost inthe Grooves” book of forgotten rocknroll LPs; and we shared a few good cultural laffs in the 80s and 90s. Though we’ve only sort of kept tabs on each other over the years – she’s in LA and I’m in San Francisco – I just knew she’d spin a good yarn for her first work of fiction, and she very much did.

“The Kept Girl” is like a code-era noir film screenplay turned adapted into fiction, with nary a vulgarity or any real violence to speak of. This is not to say it’s not unseemly at times; heinous crimes are committed, marriages are soiled, and foul-smelling death occurs. Having seen enough of the 30s talkies to know the drill – you can bet Cooper has as well – my mind visualized many of the book’s scenes playing out in glorious black and white. Cooper keeps away from cliché gumshoe/wiseguy noir patter in her dialogue, opting instead for simplicity and something midway between realism and movieland.

It centers around an apparently real 20s angel-worshipping cult called “The Great Eleven”, who bilk a mealy-mouthed oilman out of great sums of money in pursuit of the great, preposterous mission. The oilman’s even richer uncle sends his right-hand company man – an unhappy alcoholic roustabout named “Raymond Chandler” – to help figure out where the cash went. Chandler brings his secretary and a good-hearted teetotaling cop named Tom along for the ride, and together they uncover a bunch of creepy weirdness and disappeared humans, all in the name of religion. Each of the erstwhile detectives has alternating chapters as they piece together bits of the puzzle, often while at loggerheads with each other. It’s brisk, it’s funny and it’s as bright and clever a genre read as I’ve come across in my limited research. I’m glad to see Kim turning her pen in this direction, and sincerely hope she’s got plenty more in her like this.