Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of No Sale by Patrick Conrad (Bitter Lemon Press, 2012, in Dutch 2007)

Victor Cox is a professor of film history and a keen collector of movie paraphernalia and trivia with a soft spot for black and white noir movies.  Coming up to retirement he’s spent so much time watching and studying movies that he sometimes finds it difficult to distinguish between reality and the imaginary.  Seemingly every person or situation bears an uncanny resemblance to a film star or a movie scene.  When his wife is murdered, he becomes a suspect.  And the police become even more intrigued when he can be directly linked to two earlier murders, both of which are based on movie scenes.  Chief Superintendent Fons Luyckx doesn’t believe that Cox had anything to do with the murders, but when two more happen over the next couple of years the evidence seems difficult to refute.  More worryingly, Cox himself becomes increasingly convinced he might be living a double, Jekyll and Hyde, life.

No Sale is a clever, literary crime novel.  It is written and plotted in the style of a noir crime movie, using its stock of characters, sensibilities and tropes, and it is thoroughly intertextual in its make-up, blending together elements of dozens of movies without ever becoming a mere pastiche.  Victor Cox is a wonderful character, drifting somewhere between reality and the imaginary, caught in a plot that Alfred Hitchcock would have delighted in committing to film.  Whilst the resolution had no real surprise, the killer was a choice of three and it was telegraphed from a pretty long way out, and there’s some obvious gaps, such as the lack of any media interest in the cases, especially given how they all link to one person, neither really seemed to matter.  This book was more about the journey, the interconnections, the trivia, the little puzzles, and above all the set of well drawn characters - the lush wife, the wise-guy police officer in love with a prostitute, his by-the-numbers partner who takes everything at face-value, the femme fatale, the innocent victims, the larger-than-life and salt-of-the-earth lowlifes - and how they swirl around Cox.  An enjoyable read, which I’m sure would have been even better if I were a film history buff.

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