Nobody actually talks the way Craig Nova’s characters do in his 15th novel – and first mystery – Double Solitaire. And more’s the pity. As this hardboiled yarn drags us down into Hollywood perversion and corruption it lifts us up into a glittering realm of rat-a-tat dialogue where most everybody sounds like a cross between Philip Marlowe and Noel Coward.
Our flawed hero is Quinn Farrell, who earns his bread cleaning up the messes of silver screen reprobates. He takes life as it comes, without judgment. It’s easier that way. Only problem is he still has a conscience – and a compulsion to learn the truth. Although he’s been hired to make trouble go away for an actor named Terry Peregrine (“good looking in a mildly unpleasant way”) who preys on under-aged girls, Farrell can’t help but ask and try to answer inconvenient questions.
“You haven’t heard anything from her? No telephone calls?” said Farrell.
“No,” said Terry. “Why would she call me?”
Farrell nodded. “No postcards?”
Farrell didn’t wait for an answer.
“No. I wouldn’t think so. How could she?” he said.
“Give me the card,” said Terry.
“You know, in California, they still have the gas chamber,” said Farrell.
“For the people dumb enough to get caught,” said Terry. “But they are talking about a moratorium.”
“That’s a lucky break,” said Farrell. “For those stupid enough to get caught.”
“Listen,” said Terry. “I didn’t have anything to do within British twit. Nothing. If she got into trouble it wasn’t me. I’m telling you the truth. No ifs, ands, or buts. That’s the way it is.”
“You’re sure?” said Farrell.
“I don’t like your tone,” said Terry. ‘‘First you were supposed to help me with a small problem and now you are pushing me around. Just who are you working for?”
“Me? I’m working for me,” Farrell said.
As he pursues a string of deadly leads, Farrell faces other threats, from Russian mobsters and attractive hitchhikers.
“My name is Ellen.”
“Ellen,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said. “Sort of nice, don’t you think, like a farm wife?”
He didn’t want to stare, but the pistol she had was a .38, snub nosed, a revolver, some of the bluing gone, although the hammer was pulled back.
“You know,” he said. “I’ve never been carjacked before.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” she said. “And, you know, a last time, too.”
“You mean like getting killed,” he said.
“Well,” she said. “At least you aren’t stupid. Yeah. There’s a last time, too.”
“You don’t know what you’re getting into,” he said. “I’d like to warn you. I really would.”
“You’re warning me,” she said. “What have you been smoking?”
“I could just sit here. And wait you out. That is, I could make you shoot me right here, and I don’t think you want to do that.”
No,” she said. “I want you to drive me for a while.”
“But if I don’t,” he said. “You’ve got to shoot me. Or get out. They both have dangers.”
“You know,” she said. “You don’t rattle very easily, do you? Most guys start sweating bullets in circumstances like this. What do you do for a living?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
“Start the engine,” she said.
While Double Solitaire is mostly hardboiled and gritty, it also has romance (Farrell falls for his neighbor), poignancy (she works with young children dying of cancer who see the goodness in Farrell’s murky soul) and humor (you try maintaining your dignity while removing a raccoon trapped in a vending machine).
As the Wall Street Journal observed, Nova’s “movietown details have the clink of truth, and his lyrical prose has a hardboiled zip. From its ominous first sentence to its (much more encouraging) final line, Double Solitaire is a memorable page-turner.”
- Read an interview with Nova about the novel
- See his discontinued blog on writing
- Visit his official website
Craig Nova’s Top Ten List:
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
2. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
3. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (1928)
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
7. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927)
8. Jazz by Toni Morrison (1992)
9. The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61)