Doak Miller’s done his twenty-five years with the NYPD. Pensioned off, he wants a quieter life, so he moves to Gallatin County, hidden away in the big bend of Florida. He gets his private investigator’s license, hoping to pick up a little off-the-books work on the side. It’s been three years now, time enough to have developed a working relationship with Gallatin Sheriff Bill Radburn. The Sheriff has a little job for him. Shouldn’t be any problem. No problem at all. And so begins Lawrence Block’s new novel, The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes (Hard Case Crime, TitanBooks, 2015).
Well, wait a minute. It begins there, but it flashes back almost immediately to his arrival in Florida and his purchase of a house. Before you can say “James M Cain”, Miller is in bed with the realtor — Barb, “like a fishhook” — and is performing vividly-described sex acts upon her. This scene is jarring — occurring so close to the beginning — but the reader soon learns how well it fits Miller’s persona.
Block smoothly segues back into the present, where Miller is meeting with Sheriff Radburn. Seems the Sheriff has received a tip that a local woman wants someone to kill her wealthy husband so she can grab his vast fortune. Miller, not as well-known around town as Radburn’s deputies, is the ideal candidate to pose as a hitman applying for the job.
Complications ensue and Miller eventually reveals himself as a true noir character, incapable of keeping his head above water or making the right choices at vital forks in the road. He keeps seeing Double Indemnity and other film noir classics play endlessly through his mind, and a fatalistic tone slowly envelops the entire novel. His secrets and dark desires — and don’t we all have them? — gnaw away at his psyche right up to his final ironic choice.
In crafting Miller’s character, Block allows the reader to experience Miller’s downward spiral in real time; that is, by the time you realize things are going south, it’s already way too late. This is the best way to read noir fiction — total immersion in the life of a well-drawn central character. The atmospheric, small-town setting adds to the proceedings, since everyone knows everyone and you have to be very careful if you step out of line. Someone is likely to notice.
Hard Case Crime has served up yet another worthy addition to their crime/noir catalog with yet another knockout cover. This one features an image by artist Glenn Orbik. It turned out to be his final work before he passed away very recently. The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes is scheduled for publication in September, 2015.
Recommendation: Pre-order it from Amazon. The story draws you in like the aroma of bacon frying, and doesn’t let go. Block shows he hasn’t lost a step after all these years. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.