Sunday, December 23, 2007

Eureka -- William Diehl

So tell me this: Why is it that whenever someone writes a southern California crime novel the reviews says things like "Comparisons will be made to Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy's noir thrillers" and "Eureka will make you believe Raymond Chandler still lives"? Especially when the book has nothing at all in common with Hammett or Chandler. And, as we all know, there are some (me, for one) who would argue that Hammett didn't write "noir thrillers."

But who cares? What we actually have here is a sprawling novel that spans five decades, starting back in 1900 and ending in 1946. Maybe it has a little in common with Ross Macdonald because one of its themes is the effect of the past on the present. An L. A. cop, Zeke Bannon, and his partner discover that a woman found dead in her bathtub, victim of an apparent accident, has been receiving payments of $500 a month for twenty years or so. Then they find out that the "accident" was murder. This leads them to the town of San Pietro, once known as Eureka, and to Brodie Culhane, the chief of police, who has ambitions to become governor. Culhane's past has already been sketched out earlier in the book, and though he seems quite the hero to the reader, Bannon thinks he might be dirty. Bannon's investigation leads to mayhem, chicanery, and a couple of good twists. Even when the case is wrapped up, it's not wrapped up. The answers to everything finally come in an epilogue that takes place after Bannon returns from service in WWII.

I don't usually read this kind of novel. I picked it up in a hospital waiting room, and thought I'd give it a whirl. I'm not sorry I did. The historical details are interesting and, as far as I can tell, accurate. The good guys are really good, and the bad guys are really bad. The book is too long, but it moves so fast that I didn't mind. I did kind of mind the romance subplot with Bannon and a beautiful, wealthy woman. It's so unlikely that even I couldn't quite swallow it. There were some problems with the narration that really bothered me. I don't like it when a first person narrative is interrupted by italicized third-person comments. And I wondered what happened to the dog. Still, if you like epic-sized crime novels, this one shouldn't disappoint you.

1 comment:

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Hammett an L.A. writer?