Written by Dominic Piper — The concept of les femmes fatales is older than crime fiction itself – female characters whose charms and influence propel male characters to act against their own interest. Well-known examples exist throughout crime fiction, however these women can be found in all literature, from ancient Greek tragedies through to Shakespeare. Such an established stock character is losing some of its currency in this age of greater gender equality, and yet still she survives.
Private detective Daniel Beckett has an eye for women, and they seem only too eager to return his attentions. Beckett, who’s appeared in two earlier novels by Piper, Kiss Me When I’m Dead and Death is the New Black, is a PI right out of the darkest film noir. He is tall, dark and handsome, with a mysterious past and a penchant for the not-quite-legal. Some novels that take classic characters from noir and place them in modern settings fall int the trap of trying to emulate the linguistic style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, and few pull this off (James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series is a notably exception). However, Piper has a pedigree as a scriptwriter and delivers engaging, although occasionally unbelievable, dialogue and action.
While out on a date one night in central London, Beckett hears screaming and goes to investigate. He finds a teenage girl being attacked by a group of men in a car park. Using his martial arts skills (which are taken for granted, suggesting they’re explained in one of the previous novels, although this isn’t clear) he quickly dispatches a handful of men all larger than himself, saving the young girl.
The next day he receives a cryptic invitation to a restaurant in Chinatown, where he meets the girl’s granduncle Mr Sheng, a mysterious figure who just might be a triad leader. He also seems to know a lot about Beckett, and hires him to find Rikki Tuan, an associate of Sheng’s who has disappeared without a trace. To help Beckett, Sheng offers him anything he’ll need, including vast sums of money (discreetly presented), and the beautiful but occasionally far less discreet Caroline Chow.
Searching for Rikki takes Beckett into a sinister underworld involving Asian gangs, Freemasons, boxers, viscounts and burlesque performers. Beckett moves through all these settings with an ease which is James Bond-like, and his mysterious history and rugged manliness also recall Fleming’s famous secret agent. Like Bond, Beckett always gets what he’s after in the end. And of course, he gets the girl. Or girls.
Femme Fatale is not a novel for readers who don’t like a little sex. In a novel where the action occurs over the space of a few days, Beckett meets, seduces and eventually beds more women than most, except Bond, could ever imagine. They throw themselves at him, often literally, and even when he’s not with one of the many women he seduces, he’s on the lookout for more, describing their bodies in minute, objectifying detail. The sex in Femme Fatale is overwhelming, and it reads like a teenage male fantasy, but there’s enough action and plot outside it to satisfy anyone who isn’t too put off by the constant ogling at women.
Opium Den Publishing
CFL Rating: 3 Stars