A tough private eye solves a series of crimes in Kelly’s debut collection of noir short stories.
Set in Southern California in the early 1930s during the final throes of Prohibition, this take on the noir genre is heavily indebted to the classic works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Like Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, Kelly’s protagonist, Frank Murphy, is a tough private detective operating out of a dingy office. The collection starts in typical genre fashion with the arrival of a beautiful client—in this case, an actress named Laura Snow—who sets off a chain of events leading Murphy and his sidekick/love interest, Monica, into a series of mysteries, chases, and shootouts. The title story has Murphy follow Snow’s husband into a web of mobsters and murder when the husband’s connection to a liquor-smuggling syndicate turns deadly. “The Case of The Carousel Killer” finds the detective in search of Snow after an apparent stalker kidnaps her. “Prescription for Murder” revolves around the death of a Hollywood doctor, for which Murphy suspects the doc’s shady business partner. The final mystery involves another missing actor and a case of blackmail. The collection’s Malibu setting is far brighter than the usual seedy portrayal of the greater Los Angeles area, and the same could be said about Kelly’s overall take on the genre. Murphy has some of the wit and moral character that’s expected of noir heroes, and these short, punchy tales don’t linger long enough to become boring. However, their brevity makes them feel insubstantial, as they’re unable to build suspense over their short durations. That said, the author is careful to steer clear of some of the genre’s clichés, particularly regarding femmes fatales; Monica’s inclusion as an active agent in the action, for example, is a welcome update.
A light and breezy take on the noir genre.