(Harper)Donald Tremaine is hired to investigate the murder of advertising magnate Roger Gale. Tremaine is an ex-surfer, renowned for his famous antics and championship run in Hawaii. (He was known in the surf world as "Insane Tremaine.")
Body Copy is your typical L. A. P. I. tall tale. The dialogue can be tough-guy appropriate, as in Tremaine's meeting with wife to the deceased, Evelyn Gale. "Shall we sit outside?" she asks.
Shall? Funny word, Tremaine thought. Who uses "shall?" People who live in Bel Air? Moses?
Tremaine's run-in with her son Phillip is wicked. Phillip has a glass eye: "It just stared straight ahead, like a doll's. Tremaine thinking, that would be a good device for a P. I. A glass eye to confuse and fluster people you interviewed. Close your good eye and just stare at them with the glass one, freak them out."
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Raymond Chandler was casual with his proto-racial language. He commented on the "Jap gardeners in the large yards of the rich ... sneering at the weeds." Black hotel porters fell asleep on the job, and responded with a noncommittal "Sah" when asked questions.
Can't do that no more. No mocking the disabled, either (although the disabled still can: see Callahan's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot). Glass eyes are, however, apparently, still prime territory. Viz.,
Now this guy's like a lizard, Tremaine thought. A well-dressed lizard who can move just one eye at a time. Thinking, I gotta get me one of those glass eyes. Tremaine pictured a lizard sitting on a rock in the desert wearing a crested blazer and an ascot.
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Good stuff, but Craven's follow-through is a bit shallow. He should study his Spillane or Bond or Ross Macdonald. After our ex-surfer traps a whore in her car, a drunken producer in his cottage, and the sister of a victim in the desert, he gives a speech which none of these earlier writers would have let out the door:
What I can tell you is, I care about justice. I care about people like you, and people like the woman who hired me to look into all this stuff in the first place, get to the truth. Because what's really happening here, what I really do this for, is I don't like it when people get fucked over. And that's what happens when someone kills someone else and nobody does anything about it.
It don't work ... but that's OK. This is Craven's first novel so we have to be forgiving. And, despite the corny speeches, Craven knows how to keep the readers on line. His hero gets around in a 1971 Olds Cutlass --- its fan-belt "screams bloody murder" when he arrives at the L.A. Country Club. And he even offers up a cat named Darryl, with "magical, wild, beautiful cat eyes,"
And then one of Darryl's eyes, just one of them, slowly closed and opened. It was a slow, strange, cat wink, that said to Tremaine, I know you man, you've been here before.
And he had.--- Jennifer Lee