As an homage to Noir, Evan Guilford-Blake’s new mystery, NOIR(ish), is absolutely ingenious. The author must have assiduously read the entire oeuvre of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to create just the right genre phrasing and ambience in the book. Los Angeles in the summer of 1947 is the perfect setting for NOIR(ish).
The mystery’s gumshoe hero is Robert Grahame, an Indiana native and Word War Two veteran who moved out West, first to Frisco where he apprenticed for Sam Spade, before setting up a PI shop of his own in downtown LA. We first meet him about a year after he has broken up with the love of his life, and he’s hitting the bourbon a little bit too hard.
The plot centers on characters that may or may not have been involved with the murder of the notorious gangster, Bugsy Siegel. Every stock noir type character appears in the story, each depicted brilliantly by Guilford-Blake. All characters have names with noir references. For example, the manager of the all-night diner is Ed Hopper. The woman police lieutenant is Lauren Stanwyck. Even our hero’s cat has is called Greenstreet. Every noir devotee will enjoy this conjuring up of the genre’s icons.
What Guilford-Blake has not learned from Hammett and Chandler in NOIR(ish) is how to guide a mystery to a satisfying conclusion through subtlety and consistency. The plot disassembles in the end, as the author makes a disappointing choice of weaving sci-fi elements within what had been a pure noir context. In this particular situation, the mixing of genres just doesn’t work at all.