In this brutally beautiful novel, Hague transplants classic noir from 50’s America to modern Australia without chipping the edges off a single shadow. Not content with one transformation, he splices in the supernatural too.
Lukas Boston is a private eye. Cast out from the police force but owed for no making his disgrace contagious, most of his work takes him into the grey areas of mutual back-scratching and “misplaced” case files. But facing all the risks of being a police officer without the rights and protections isn’t the only nebulous area he faces: Boston can see and hear the dead. When a dead drug-dealer starts popping up at all the worst times, Boston is drawn into the classic noir tale of find the package before the femme fatale, the gangster, and the crazy guy sing him a dirt lullaby.
As a detective thriller, this novel rockets along. Skilfully extracting the archetypes of gritty realism and decaying style from the best hard-boiled fiction and wrapping them in the sweat and beauty of the modern world, Hague creates a plot both aesthetic and plausible.
The background exposition is equally well-paced: while there are differences from the American model well-known to readers of crime fiction, they are more flavour than obstacle, giving the reader a momentary reminder there are places in the world that aren’t Chicago without breaking the tension.
However – while Boston’s gift of sight can’t be completely separated from the rest of the book – it does feel slightly loose around the edges. With the main plot instigated by an interesting spin on the ghost from Hamlet, events continue forward with the ghosts being little more than a cherry in a whisky sour: a slight feeling of being more than the basics, and a brief burst of one taste in the middle of another.
Boston is a solid character. He has been doing dirty things long enough for the cynicism to get ground in, but he still has enough hope to make the reversals emotive. Although the ghosts themselves might feel a ill-seated, Boston’s reaction to them has an excellent balance of nervous interest and resignation entirely consistent with seeing them regularly for years.
The supporting cast is equally well realised: from the two very different femme fatales obsessed with adding some overtime to two very different investigations to the chilled gangsters working equally for both contenders for head of a crime family, Hague puts a darkly amusing spin on the staples of crime thrillers.
I enjoyed this book very much. I recommend it to readers seeking the grime of noir without the archaism.
I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.