Monday, December 30, 2013

Review of Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride (New Pulp Press, 2012)

St Louis PI, Nick Valentine, is a former cop with an addiction problem to alcohol, prescription drugs, and whatever else he can get his hands on, who’s only real friend is his Yorkshire Terrier, Frank Sinatra.  When a credit union boss is found dead in suspicious circumstances his old police boss calls him to help with the investigation.  Not long after the credit union is robbed, but it doesn’t go to plan when one of the thieves is shot in the back and a car driver is murdered.  Valentine knows the perfect place to find the word on the street - a strip-joint, Cowboy Roy’s Fantasyland.  Soon, along with a pair of strip-joint buddies, he’s on the trail of two local hoodlums, English Sid and Johnny No Nuts.  Valentine’s plan is to solve the crimes but to keep the money, but that may prove easy said than done given the rising body count.

In Frank Sinatra in a Blender, Matthew McBride takes a typical PI story and max everything up to eleven -- the hardboiled style, the excessive drug-taking, the violence and mayhem.  Nick Valentine used to be a decent cop, but is now a man living on the edge, bedding down in his office which he shares with Frank Sinatra, his Yorkshire Terrier, who can’t function without excessive quantities of alcohol or drugs, travels round with a small armoury, and is familiar with the underbelly of St Louis.  He doesn’t solve cases with subtlety or in ways that are always legal, and he’s quite happy to work with both cops and criminals.  He’s the kind of character that appeals to my baser tastes in crime fiction, and the caper plot and all show and no tell style of storytelling meant that Frank Sinatra in a Blender should have pushed all my buttons.  However, whilst the tale does have its merits as an escapist, excessive, fast-moving story, I never fully connected with either Valentine or the yarn.  In part, I think this is because the tale is told through the first-person voice of Valentine which curiously never modulates despite excessive drug-taking. Moreover, the prose is workmanlike, the characterization is largely skin deep, and the plot is premised on the criminals and cops being complete idiots and has a number of plot devices that felt a little too clunky.  Given the style and alcohol-fuelled state of the characters, the story is also thin on humour beyond parody, such as wisecracks and sarcasm.  The result is a fast paced, action-packed tale, but one that didn’t quite live up to its promise.  Nevertheless, it was for the most part an entertaining read. 


Mel Healy said...

Hi Rob

Your review takes no prisoners but I adored McBride's title!

- Mel

Anonymous said...

You sound jealous to me asshole. So, who is your literary agent? Wait, let me guess. YOU DON"T HAVE ONE.

Rob Kitchin said...

Jealous? I'm afraid not. And I don't feel the need to hide behind anonymity to express my views. Which are based on reading a lot of crime fiction, publishing a lot of books and articles, and working as a editor on a professional basis. As the review says, this is an entertaining read, it just didn't in my opinion quite live up to its full promise. It did, however, lead me to get hold of another McBride novel.