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I got the idea to write a noir detective novel after I decided to watch Double Indemnity while I cleaned my apartment. After that we watched The Big Sleep. I immediately started reading noir classics and upon viewing The Maltese Falcon after a steak dinner and a couple glasses of bourbon, I realized that Sam Spade is a huge jerk.
It’s rather easy to critique hardboiled fiction for sexism and racism, but I realized that Philip Marlowe isn’t a misogynist or a racist, really. He’s a product of his time.
That’s what drove me to write The Clear Case. I wanted to make my own detective, Mel Gance, a product of his time, but with a cleverness and perceptiveness that flouts the hypocrisy inherent in sexism, racism, and classism. I like to say this book is “feminish,” in that it has some feminist questions and interrogations rather than flat-out themes. I wanted to critique the genre while paying homage to that which I love about it.
Gance is very much a Man. He’s tall, handsome, clever, commanding, flirtatious, and a very shrewd detective. He functions at a time and place, 1947 San Francisco, where gender and class are very definitive and arranged like pin curls.
Cecilia Le Cleur is a puzzle within a puzzle for Gance. I wanted to take the “femme fatale” concept and manipulate it. In The Maltese Falcon, Miss Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy is fatale, but she is not clever. Spade recognizes her lies immediately. Philip Marlowe also easily sees through the facades of the women he deal with in his cases. They may be clever and sometimes unpredictable. But these two detectives are able to pigeonhole their women immediately. That’s because women weren’t entirely real people in these works of fiction.
Cecilia Le Cleur is as practiced and precise as they come. I wanted to create a foil for Gance who confuses some of his more unconscious skills. Gance is an excellent reader. He can scan faces and words and body language like text. He can break down and analyze choices and revelations. That’s why he’s such a good detective. But Cecilia, upon their first meeting, challenges his readership skills by giving him almost no text to analyze.
Grace Springfield, Gance’s secretary, is another contrast to these generally one-dimensional female characters. In the comic Good Graces we learn that she used to work at the morgue, but Gance persuaded her to leave and join him. She’s also a very good reader and an excellent strategist. Unlike many of the classic noir secretaries we get, she’s more than a girl to banter with and a tool for delivering important plot points. Grace is a person, an associate, and a resource, an integral character rather than a talking MacGuffin.
So, in addition to this being a good mystery and an exploration of the tropes and styles of noir and hardboiled fiction, The Clear Case is very much an exploration of good readership and assumptions in characters that live in a time defined by rigid gender, class, and professional roles. Red lips and 5 o’clock shadow. Stockings and cufflinks. Furs and fedoras.
The novel is coming out in November. Paperbacks will be available Fantastic Comics in Berkeley. You’ll also be able to order the paperback online, or the ebook through Amazon kindle.