Lady Punk In Memoriam; Poly Styrene (July 3, 1957 – April 25, 2011)
Image: In The Pink
© Keith Proctor 2009
The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel
Putnam, January 2011. 320 pp. $26.95
Late in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe, the inceptive knight-errant detective, receives help from a mysterious stranger. A “big redheaded roughneck” with “violet eyes, like a lovely girl,” Red Norgaard suddenly emerges out of nowhere, provides critical assistance and muscle, then just as quickly disappears—but not before Marlowe reveals more to him about his own private demons than to any other character in the series. “I told him a great deal more than I intended to,” Marlowe admits. “It must have been his eyes.”
In the end, Marlowe declines Red’s offer of continued help, saying, “Either I do it alone or I don’t do it.” Red replies, “Sometimes a guy has to.” The detective’s isolation is understood, inviolate.
This extended, intensely emotional episode is unlike any other in the Marlowe novels.
Image: Sometimes I Wonder (On Doing An Evil Deed)
© John Finneran 2009
“Three or four miles beyond the end of the pier, a half-dozen oil platforms blazed with lights like leafless Christmas trees. And off to the north, like a menacing West Coast Statue of Liberty, a giant gas flame flared.”
– The Blue Hammer (1976)
There are many reasons to read Ross Macdonald’s midcentury crime novels. All are exceptionally well-written, acute and humane in examining the psychology of guilt, and scrupulously observant about Southern California, that land of “the short hairs and the long hairs, the potheads and the acid heads, draft dodgers and dollar chasers, swingers and walking wounded, idiot saints, hard cases, foolish virgins” (so The Instant Enemy puts it in 1968). Still another reason to read Macdonald is his fascination with the region’s natural terrain, which over the course of his career became more and more a part of his dark stories. From some initial criminal act, Macdonald’s plots typically spread out widely in space and time, until they cover a whole landscape with a stain of wrongdoing or betrayal, and California itself comes to seem the victim.
In The Underground Man (1971), for example, Santa Ana winds spread brush fires around a coastal city, accelerating the plot and making Macdonald’s private-eye hero Lew Archer do his investigating in the midst of threatened hillside subdivisions, with the air moving in spurts behind him like hot animal breath. Archer passes an old avocado grove in the path of the fire and sees the hanging fruits as grenades waiting to be detonated.