Sunday, November 2, 2014
Male Leary Comes Home, by Michael Guillebeau
First things first: I have a story of my own in this anthology, so that may affect my objectivity.
And let's talk about the theme of this anthology: what the heck is cozy noir? Besides an oxymoron, I mean.
Cozy has been defined as "a mystery in which people get killed but no one gets hurt." Noir, as I said a few weeks ago, is fiction in which a nobody tries to be somebody and gets stomped for it. There isn't really much overlap between those two fields. Most of the authors I the book (so far as I have read) have interpreted it more or less this way: Something violent and nasty happens in a relatively idyllic place. Fair enough.
We are almost to this story, the second by Mr. Guillebeau that has made my column this year. But first, we have to talk its subgenre.
There are two ways to build a piece of historical fiction: external and internal. (They are not exclusive, by the way). External means you bury yourself in the details of the time and place you are writing about, so that the reader is convinced that you know (even if you don't tell) who built every conestoga wagon, Byzantine chariot, or Ford Flivver your characters rush to the rescue in.
Internal means that you create characters who talk, speak (within reasonable limits) and most importantly, think like people of that time and place. That's much harder than figuring out what an eighteenth-century policeman would have had for breakfast. One reason it's hard is that, if we are honest, a lot of people in the past are going to have opinions we find unpleasant or unacceptable. Do you really want your protagonist to talk about African-Americans like a real cop in the forties might have done?
And so you may get the feeling that under that Roman toga the hero is wearing modern Fruit-of-the-Looms.
The reason I like this story so much is that (while it is not offensive to modern eyes) it reads like the author grew up on Black Mask magazines, fought in World War II, and came back to write about what he found at home.
Which brings us to the Leary guy in the title. He was baptized Robert T. His birth certificate calls him Male. His friends call him Mister.
Under any name, he was in the Navy during the War and then joined the merchant marine. When the story opens he's back from sea and learns that the father of his girlfriend is having trouble with a gang boss. Leary and a friendly bar owner get involved and - something violent and nasty happens in a relatively idyllic place..
The last few paragraphs, with Hammett-esque irony, illustrate the cozy-noir theme so well that they might have been written with this book in mind. In any case, the story is a treat.