Doak Miller is a former New York cop who's taken early retirement, moved to Florida and picked up a PI licence. He lives a quiet life in a small town, has occasional sex with the realtor who sold him his house, and does odd jobs for the local sheriff. One of these is to play a hit-man, and wear a wire when he meets a woman who wants her husband killed. But something about Lisa Yarrow Otterbein's eyes gets to Doak.
It's a familiar sort of noirish set-up, right down to the steamy Florida back-drop, the kind of thing that John D MacDonald (echoed by this book's title) or some of the great Gold Medal pulpsters might turn out. This should be no surprise because Lawrence Block may be the last of those writers who came up in the Fifties and early Sixties in New York, often via the Scott Meredith agency, people like Ed McBain and Donald Westlake, and these kind of novels were their stock in trade.
Many of them also churned out porn, as well as soft-core crime fiction, like Block's Chip Harrison books, which is interesting because sex as well as death is the cornerstone of noir. And what Block is doing here is bringing the two together in a matter-of-fact way to suggest that these urges bleed into each other more than writers care to admit, or explain. What's most interesting is seeing the way Doak, rather than being manipulated like a classic noir bozo, is actually drawing himself in consciously, and with control (though of course we're always on the lookout for the usual inevitable betrayal) of the situation, and with a ruthlessness which sexuality has drawn out and intensified.
There's an almost tongue-in-cheek element to the sex here, as if Block were nodding back to those more outwardly innocent days, where the sin was just as heavy but the description was less graphic. If anything, you might see it as an old master doing what he might have wanted to do many years before. The key is Doak's experience with a pregnant woman he interviews as part of an insurance check. She's a reflection of Mildred Diedrichson, role reversed with Doak. And if Doak's inner self turns out to be worthy of Walter Neff (who is referenced specifically by Block, in what may be a slightly too cute playing of his story against some classic film noirs) there is a reason Block has attempted an hommage of Double Indemnity, reclaimed for the male. Block hands the book's killer ending to Lisa. 'That's the movies,' she said. 'This is life.'
The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes by Lawrence Block
Titan Books/Hard Case Crime £16.99 ISBN 9781783297504