The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes

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girlwiththedeepblueeyes200Written by Lawrence Block — You know what you’re in for within the first few pages with this pulp detective story set in Florida. Block begins the book with his main character, Doak Miller, performing anal sex with the estate agent who’s recently sold him a house in Gallatin County. Although there’s a clever story to this novel, it’s lurid throughout.

Miller is a retired New York cop who knows how to be careful and considered – which aids him as a private detective in a sleepy reach of Florida somewhere near Tampa – but has dark desires he sometimes can’t keep a lid on. He works cases for local insurance companies, vetting their clients, and also helps the local sheriff with a sting here and there.

Sheriff Radburn has got wind that Lisa Otterbein wants a hitman to bump off her wealthy husband George. Miller poses as the hitman wearing a wire, but there’s a slight problem. From his first glance at a photo of Lisa he’s fallen in love with her. On top of anal sex with estate agents and kinky sex with pregnant women, he wants to get with a black widow, and he hatches a cunning plan which means the sheriff’s sting fails, without the lawman realising that Miller has spiked it.

Then he secretly hooks up with Lisa and in their tryst finds out the reason she wanted George killed. She actually has a strong case for wanting the man dead and Miller decides he’ll do it for her. However, there are all kinds of complications – the main one being the fact that Lisa’s on the sheriff’s radar and if anything happens to George Otterbein she’ll get the jacket for it. After all, she’s already tried to hire a hitman…

Block gets just about everything right. The content and style may be pulp, but the writing is as smooth as a 19-year aged Scotch. Balmy central Florida, with condensation dripping off every cold beer, the mosquitos and the strip malls, is perfectly captured. Miller, the nihilistic ex-cop at the centre of his own universe unfolds to be as cold blooded and primordial as any reptile in this swampy setting.

But it’s the plot that really stands out. Just when you thought there couldn’t be another take on the noir love-and-death dilemma, Block has found one. The author ties his story to the genre’s heritage by having Miller watch film noir on TCM throughout the book, including films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Surveilling Otterbein, Miller spots an opportunity. The man has a mistress set up in a condo and through her the detective thinks up a way that might – just might – rid them of George without either of them having to face the needle. But can Miller stifle his bizarre, emerging desire to strangle women long enough to pull it off?

Lawrence Block is an excellent author, but not all is well with this book. It’s worth noting that the main female characters are all victims of one sort or another and the main character has a disdain for the gender – he even worries himself at one point. For me, the sex was so frequent and so detailed that it crossed the line into bad taste. Doak Miller’s verboten thoughts are even worse. As much as I admire this author, there’s a lack of compassion in The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes and ultimately it spoils what is an intriguing story in a setting I love.

This book has a fantastic cover painting, one of the last by the great Glen Orbik who passed away recently. For more pulp, click here. The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes is out 22 September.

Hard Case Crime/Titan Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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