I think this book defines the direction of modern noir. With a nod to the old timey black-and-white "B" movies and a wink to the subculture of the young these days (and a sideways glance at "The X-Files"), Ayoob has constructed an interesting and sometimes bizarre story.
Mercy Carnahan is an actress who disappeared decades ago after a meltdown during her Broadway debut. She was the queen of the sassy 1940s "B" movie dames. In the process of becoming "La Devila," the nickname given to her naughty and not nice persona, she left behind Louis Kashon, her hometown boyfriend. In the present time, when Louis meets Dexter Bolzjak, a young, traumatized -- but, as is typical these days, the story of his unfortunate past is drawn out in scant inches throughout the book -- produce warehouse worker, Louis prevails on Dexter to find his long-lost love. As inducement, Louis shows Dexter a drawer full of $100 and $500 bills. Just find Mercy and all that would be his. It soon becomes obvious that this is not your reality-based detective story; there are too many odd-ball characters and way-out situations.
What Dexter first starts investigating is Louis. Who was he and where did he get the money? Then he investigates his new boss, Gen, a business diva who has deigned to work at Dexter's produce company. Dexter has dizzy spells -- no, he has whirlpool spells -- that occur whenever he has flashbacks to "the trauma." In the end he must also investigate and face what happened to him. And the elusive quarry of his search is Mercy, who is alternately good girl Agnes, her real name, and the flashy, trashy Hollywood dame, whom drag queens and S&M freaks have come to adore. So, it is not just the whereabouts of Mercy that Dexter needs to discover but who Mercy really was.
Told in the present tense, probably to distinguish the current narrative from the parts about Mercy and Louis in the past, it remains to be seen until the end whether Dexter survives his adventure intact.
This is an intense book, at times graphically violent. It won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Best First Private Eye Novel award. Ayoob's writing has punch and he gets an "A" for creativity. And those of us who've read this book are still talking about the ending!
Michael Ayoob is scheduled to appear at Murder by the Book on Tuesday, October 19.