A detective seeks the body of his murdered client in this absurdist take on the hard-boiled detective novel.
Septuagenarian postmodernist Coover (A Child Again, 2005, etc.) presents his story in first-person perspective, and although he never reveals the main character’s middle name, readers of Raymond Chandler can guess what the “M” in Phillip M. Noir stands for. The novel alludes frequently to the noirs of yesteryear. All the classic elements are here: the convoluted plot, the conflicted antihero pitted against pervasive rot and corruption, the tricks with point of view. The difference is that they’re all filtered through Coover’s warped lens. He expounds on his characters’ exceedingly base behavior in explicit, sometimes excruciating detail, and seems to delight in doing so. In addition to the standard hard-boiled mystery sins of murder, rampant alcohol abuse and avarice, Coover’s characters engage in incest, pedophilia and necrophilia, as well as seemingly nonstop (though otherwise comparatively tame) couplings of every conceivable kind. It’s just a little too cartoonish to be taken seriously, but nestled among the filth and depravity are some deft and even oddly tender touches involving unlikely characters: the two Yakuza who engage in years-long conversation largely by tattooing a favorite moll; the girl who falls in love with whoever she’s currently dancing with, whose death causes a Russian hit man to trade his rifle for a pool cue. While Coover’s unnamed city is a cesspool of crime and corruption governed by nightmare logic, the absurd tone lets us know it’s all in fun.
Depraved and amusing.