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THE SECOND MURDERER
by Denise Mina
Mulholland, August 2023
256 pages
$28.00
ISBN: 0316265640


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Crime readers and writers alike share a common passion for the seminal works of Raymond Chandler. A century after they first saw the light of day his stories continue to define the hardboiled genre in the 1940s, dominated by the tough-talking PI as he navigates his way among the wealthy, the corrupt, and the defeated and victimized of Los Angeles, ironically known as the city of angels. Now one of the most gifted of contemporary crime writers, Denise Mina, turns her formidable talents to recreating Marlowe's world, giving us yet another tale featuring the latter-day white knight as he wrestles with the forces of evil and attempts to restore a small measure of good to a city that seems to thrive on banality and sin. She has succeeded admirably, and Marlowe fans will have much to celebrate in her latest work.

On a hot, sticky day in the Fall Philip Marlowe finds himself summoned to the Beverly Hills mansion of one of LA's biggest magnates, Chadwick Montgomery. For all of his wealth and influence the man is dying, and he needs Marlowe's help. When he offers Marlowe (whose going rate is forty dollars a day) a cheque for one thousand dollars Marlowe refuses; Montgomery asks why, and Marlowe's response is revealing:

"My rates are set. They remind me of who I am. If I take more than that and you ask me to dance the hoochie-coo I'm liable to be of two minds about it. This way I can tell you to blow. I don't dance. I'm a cheap man with a bad car who gets into trouble and finds things out for people who can't do it themselves. You want me to find something out?"

Montgomery does want something, and eventually they come around to it: his daughter Chrissie, his only child and heir, and a widow at twenty-two, is missing, and Montgomery wants to know whether she is all right. When Marlowe agrees to help the aging patriarch he is setting off on a journey that will see people die, and widen his mission beyond anything he imagines. He delves into worlds both familiar and new to him, and walks a fine line between attracting the law and fulfilling his word to his client, and along the way readers are treated to a colourful and incisive portrait of a city that is complex and corrupt, and where the outcome of his efforts is never assured until the very last page.

THE SECOND MURDERER is a well-thought-out, pacey tale that builds on the traditions of the best in hardboiled fiction. The settings are expertly revealed, the dialogue on every social level is impeccable, and Mina's narrative is peppered with the jaded cynicism so characteristic of Chandler's writing itself:

"The Montgomery's money was so old there was a rumour that some of it still had Moses' teeth marks on it. They'd got into the oil business early and owned big fields in the south of the city. All the derricks downs in Inglewood were theirs. Old money has a way of multiplying."

Denise Mina is an exceptional and professional writer, and it shows. Seemingly effortlessly she transports the reader back to another time, and to a culture totally distinct from her many other novels. The result is a layered portrait of a long-gone and fascinating time and place, and of a nuanced protagonist who has not lost his appeal for nearly a hundred years. Let's hope she continues to apply her formidable talents to this golden age of American crime fiction.

In addition to being a reviewer with over six hundred reviews and interviews to his credit, Jim Napier is the acclaimed author of Legacy and Ridley's War, in the British-based Inspector Colin McDermott mystery series.

Reviewed by Jim Napier, October 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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