I used to read a lot more genre fiction when I was younger. In fact, that’s pretty much all I read: my mainstays were Stephen King for horror, Isaac Asimov for scifi, and Robert B. Parker for mysteries. In college I was introduced to contemporary literary fiction, the likes of Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, but I still read mysteries every so often. I always found a great deal of comfort in how the authors wrote book after book using the same characters (Spenser) or a niche (like Dick Francis and horseracing). If I ever considered writing as a profession, these folks seemed like the ones with steady jobs.
For the last year or so, I’ve been reading more mysteries than usual because that’s what I’m writing now (or, more accurately, attempting to). And there’s one author I’ve really come to like, Raymond Miller. His second book recently came out as an eBook , and it’s just as enticing as his first, A Scent of Blood. Cold Trail Blues is the new one, and it continues the curious cases of Nathaniel Singer, private eye. The heart of every work of noir is the voice of the narrator, and I can’t help but cheer for this guy. He’s as tenacious as they come, but funny, too. He’s got a gal named Kate, an MFA student, working for him as an assistant, and I can listen to their banter all day long.
The first novel dealt with a hit-and-run murder of a prominent doctor; Cold Trail Blues takes place in Waverly College, where a student has been accused of murdering his girlfriend. The book is full of misdirection and action — even a pretty nifty car chase. One of my favorite moments is when Kate talks to Singer about Paul Auster.
“I reread Paul Auster’s City of Glass trilogy over the weekend,” she said. “I felt as if I were preparing for a test.”
“I’m not familiar with it.”
“It’s a trilogy of postmodern detective novels.”
She explained the plot of one of them. A detective named Green is hired by a man named Brown to study the movements of a man named Black. Green takes a hotel room across the street from Black’s apartment and observes him through the window all day. But all Black does is write.
“What makes them postmodern?” I said. “Is it the plots? Or is the detective himself postmodern? Or is the bad guy postmodern?”
“I suppose you’d say it’s the plots themselves. They’re never resolved, and they never can be resolved.”
“Just sounds like bad detective work to me.”
I’m a big fan of City of Glass, but Singer’s response here is pitch perfect. If Singer had been on the case, I bet he could’ve solved it. By the way, Paul Auster wrote a fine regular mystery himself under the pseudonym of Paul Benjamin, Squeeze Play. You can find it in his memoir Hand to Mouth.