BLACK by Russell Blake

An upbeat noir thriller.  Contradiction in terms? Perhaps, but this is fiction, and in fiction you can do what you want, right?

So, the official blurb is:  “Artemus Black. Perennially down-on-his-luck Hollywood PI whose Bogie fixation is as dated as his wardrobe. With an assistant who mocks him relentlessly, an obese cat that loathes him, a romantic life that’s deader than Elvis, money problems, booze, nicotine, and anger management issues, how much worse can it get? When he takes a case that’s supposed to be easy money working for a celebrity whose colleagues and surrounding paparazzi are dropping faster than interest in the star’s big comeback, the cakewalk turns ugly and Black finds himself in a web of deceit, betrayal, and murder – and bad hair days.”

Nobody calls him by his first name except his hippy dippy parents,(Spring and Chakra) who are still livin’ the dream of the sixties … but with money.  Mom sold her hobby craft to a big company for big bucks, while Artemus, (“Black.  Just call me Black”.) is struggling to make the rent ever since his glory days of song writing hits for his now ex-wife tanked when she stole them from him or something.  A few other failed gigs (limo service, etc) have led to a stab at a P.I. business, but hey, it IS LA, so anything is possible.

While the book isn’t exactly lite, it ain’t Raymond Chandler, either, what with the wise-cracking assistant, has-been gossip purveyor, now down on her luck living in a single wide in a sad excuse for a mobile home park, and Gracie, his landlady whose glory days were so long ago that the glow is hardly visible anymore, especially through the fumes of her bottle a day intake of something faintly resembling alcohol.

Gracie’s pugnacious demeanor belied by her frailty and the faint reek of perennial decay, or organs breaking down and time having its way.

He dresses in vintage 40s clothes, complete with fedora, and drives an elderly — very elderly … El Dorado convertible, about which

His maintenance ethos for cars was in accord with this physical fitness regime — a combination  of procrastination and denial.  Every morning, he gave it the old Texas tune-up .. started the motor and revved it until the lumpiness generally subsided.

Living in LA and moving in the culture of stars, wanna-be stars, celebrity, money, and appearances, he says to his cop friend

I probably shouldn’t say this, but I get the feeling that Hunter [his married client] was banging her.

[His friend replies]  Big deal.  People bang each other all the time.  This is Holly wood.  Banging is like ordering a latte or something, except for guys like you and me.  Everyone else in this town is out banging right now — while we’re sitting in this armpit talking about how your client is out banging.

Fun read, and there are a few more in the series, with clever titles like: Black Is Back, Black Is the New Black, Black to Reality, and Black in the Box.  I love clever word play.  Got to see if I can scare up a couple more in this series.

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