Written by Michael Lion — This is Michael Lion’s second novel and it follows on from The Butcher’s Granddaughter in 2009, also published by American independent New Pulp Press. Lion has found a novel way to update the PI genre – by making the protagonist in his series a snitch. Where exactly Bird sits in the criminal firmament is unclear. He works both ends of the street, gathering information through his connections, and selling that information on, either to the police or the underworld. His operation seems to be accepted to both detectives and criminals, but he never truly belongs in either world.
It is 1993, and Bird is approached one night by the father of a missing girl. Allison Sharoque is a pharmacy major who was left with a scar around her neck following a brutal assault almost a year ago. However, she has been visiting her mother’s therapist and making good progress, and her father can’t explain her disappearance. After reluctantly agreeing to take the case – finding people is only a sideline for Bird, and he is suitably cynical in the best hardboiled tradition to be suspicious of everyone – the men agree to meet again in a few days time. However, Mr Sharoque is shot down outside the bar as the pair say goodbye.
Bird begins his search with Allison’s mother. Melissa is a bitter alcoholic who seems to resent her daughter’s youth and beauty, and the visit is a dead end. Bird’s remaining leads are the two women’s therapist, a Dr Braudel, and his own contacts within the sprawling city. Braudel is reluctant to talk, preferring to hide behind confidentiality but he does disclose that Allison was on medication. Big Daddy Cain is a pimp who specialises in unique girls, by whom he means beautiful girls with a flaw, and Allison’s scar puts her into that category. He denies turning her out, but does recall her in a late-night coffee joint talking to a girl called Celina. When Bird braces Celina the next day at work, she acts suspiciously, and the following day Bird discovers her dead at her home address.
Someone is trying very hard to keep Bird from finding Allison, having first killed her dad, and then her friend. When Bird hears his main competition in the information business, Johnny O, has also been killed, he knows he will have to find Allison or die trying.
The influence of classic PI fiction on The Forgotten Addiction is clear, and Bird can easily be read as a latter-day Marlowe, moving through the night on LA’s mean streets. He reminded me most of Robert Altman’s Marlowe in the 1973 film The Long Goodbye. There is a cynicism in Lion’s book – the knight errant is, after all, a snitch – which fits with the slightly mocking tone of Altman’s movie – and the pacing is far more relaxed and meandering than Chandler’s. Part of the pleasure of the book is the way the author takes his own sweet time, often pushing the narrative to one side to digress down some entertaining dead end.
The plot can therefore lack direction at times, but Lion is confident in his delivery, this is an interesting update to the LA noir canon that deserves your attention, and Michael Lion is a new talent worth watching. What a great cover, too.
The Forgotten Addiction goes on sale 20 November.
New Pulp Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars