If the inclusion of the erstwhile master of the genre, Raymond Chandler, as a fictonalised character in a pastiche 1930s detective novel is a bit of a gimmick, it is a nice gimmick. In The Kept Girl it keeps us guessing whether the author, Kim Cooper, believes Chandler’s greatest invention, Philip Marlowe, was a self-portrait, or based on someone he knew.
The most likely candidate Cooper offers is Tom James, a Los Angeles detective inspector busted down to traffic cop for trying to expose police corruption. But equal billing might go to the fictional Chandler’s secretary, Muriel Fischer, a woman with more pluck than the average Chandler heroine.
In this story Chandler is forced to investigate the fate of money that has gone missing from his employer, Dabney Oil. With help from Tom and Muriel, he is embroiled in a new-age cult of angel-worshippers, who turn from harmless Californian cranks to murderous fanatics in a tale that gets more sinister with every turn of the page.
While the language and setting are not really Chandleresque, the book has a life and vitality of its own which makes it a compelling read. Paradoxically, the real star of this show is not Chandler at all, but Tom, more a Californian Maigret than a hard- boiled private dick. He really should star in a spin-off series of his own.
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