The Drowned Detective
A Novel
Neil Jordan
Jonathan is a detective, works in some city in Mitteleuropa. His wife Sarah does architectural digs just outside of town. Daughter Jenny plays the violin and has three or four imaginary friends. Which he (and perhaps the reader) honors without problem; even though all these spooks around makes Sarah uneasy. Jonathan to Sarah:

    I've laid out plates, I told her, for Melanie and Jessica but I can't remember the third name. Rebecca, she said. Will they all take Parmesan cheese? I asked. No, she said. Melanie's lactose intolerant, Jessica and Rebecca are on a diet.

Later, Jenny will learn to play Bach, complicated, impossible Bach. Her teacher; another imaginary friend, #4. Named Petra.

Throughout Drowned Detective you'll find black pearls, cufflinks, e-cigarettes, rains, flooding, riots, scattered around, along with Bach and this noisome river in the middle of it all. With a bridge with four statues of stone (or stoned) lions. Blind.

The marriage of Jonathan and Sarah is falling apart. As is the city. The river is filled with scum, brown icky storm drain refuse with other ejecta, and the occasional dead or half-dead body. Which Jonathon insists on jumping in and trying to rescue.

The protesters fill the streets, wearing colorful balaclavas, playing Pussy Riot, followed by the police, also in balaclavas . . . but the police don't seem to be playing. Their balaclavas are black. Am I some kind of a putz? I had to look up "balaclava," thinking it was some kind of mid-Eastern pastry. No, that's baklava, the stuff that's so sweet it makes your teeth jingle.

Jonathan is seeking Petra who is, it seems, a young lady who has gone missing for ten years - - - ran away from home when she was fairly young. To find her, as detective, he uses the services of his medium.

    I felt the need for an hour of Gertrude. Her scrabbling dog, her electronic cigarettes, her wheatgrass and her crème de menthe.

Gertrude is an ancient Marlene Dietrich, able, apparently, to find the missing (hand poised over street maps, spontaneous combustion scorching the exact location). Jonathan also thinks she can do Life's big questions.

    Tell me about the dead, I asked her.

    I know nothing about them. I am fake, like I told your colleague, charlatan.

    My wife, I began.

    Ah, she said, you still have one? Things are looking optromistic.

    Optimistic, I corrected her.

    Yes, she said. Look on the bright side. The dead can't.

    She's working on a dig, I said. She's uncovered a body, from centuries ago. It's causing riots.

    Maybe it has unfinished business, and she exhaled a billow of smoke. She must have known how mysterious it made her. Those painted lips, those Slavic cheekbones.

Those painted lips, those Slavic cheekbones . . . that terrific dialogue.

If there's one thing that gets us old Raymond Chandler fans, it's got to be cheeky, cynical dialogue. Saying so much in so few words. (Author Jordan makes movies when he isn't writing novels, which is perhaps why he is able to have his characters say so much, in so little time, using the minimum of words.

Besides Gertrude and Sarah and Jonathon, all live, there's Petra, who may not be dead. That's what Jonathon has been hired to find out. There's also something called "Mesopotamian heat," dogs with knee problems (the formal name is "patella"), a worried shrink (worried about Jonathan, and Sarah, and their stuck marriage) and Bach. A bunch of Bach, sometimes played by Pablo Casals on CD, sometimes by Petra on her cello, and, by twelve-year-old Jenny, who has a sudden uncanny ability to finger the suites.

I'm not about to get entangled in the plot of The Drunken Detective. The unwinding of Jordan's novel might make little sense to either of us. Again, it's that touch of Chandler. Apparently while working on their screenplay The Big Sleep, writers William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett couldn't figure out who killed one of the characters. So they called the author,

    and after thinking about it for a while, Chandler admitted that he'd completely forgotten to identify the killer of this person in the book and had no idea who did it.

Also, like Chandler, Jordan is a master of dualities: life and death; spirit and body; love and despair; the whole doppelgänger that makes us us, or, at best, who we think we are.

§   §   §

Here, in the Drowned Detective, as in any good novel, there are some fine bit parts. The young lady in the morgue, as she and Jonathan finally close the drawer with Petra laying there, "her eyelashes were stiffened with hoarfrost."

    You find what you want? Clues?

    There are no clues, I told her. Just a girl who threw herself in the river.

    And there are too many of those, she said.

    She jerked her head towards the corridor outside. She seemed to find my presence there amusing.

    Surely one is too many, I said.

    Yes, she said. I must remind myself never to do it.

Finally, there's Frank. A walk-on part at the beginning. Cool in his suit, even on the hottest days. Shaves his chest. Works as detective, in the same office as Jonathan. Slept with Sarah, too. An accomplished roué.

Fired by Jonathan. Would you hire someone who's sleeping with your spouse? But then Frank gets brought back in the last few chapters because he has a very important job to do; probably doesn't and won't know how important until after it's done.

A special job for a guy who the ladies find irresistible. Especially one, the cello player, who may or may not be dead. Does Bach, but also Verdi, in a solo cello riff in Rigoletto. With it's fatal curse.

And then there's Bizet. This is a very musical novel. Jonathan at the jewelry shop. He walks in to look at the pearls, and the sales lady mentions the duet from The Pearl Fishers, "the duet that I had always found so anodyne," Jonathan remembers.

    Au fond du temple saint Parée de fleurs et d'or Une femme apparaît! Je crois la voir encore! Une femme apparaît! Je crois la voir encore!

Anodyne: the medicine that takes away pain. The pain of being a detective, one who's drowning, and isn't sure how to swim beyod the edge of the river.

§   §   §

You don't want to miss this one. Or let me say it better: if you miss this one, you are missing something as dark and subtle as those black pearls from Japan.

That really aren't black, Jordan tells us: rather a soft grey.

They may not be what they're called.

Just like this "drowned detective." Who just may be, rather, all wet - - - but not so much so as to drown.

--- Pamela Wylie
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