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Crescent Blues Book Views Bantam Doubleday (Hardcover), ISBN 0553800957
Thomas H. Cook's book, The Interrogation, demands that I define the phrase "beautiful noir." Cut away the fat of all noir fiction; the cliches of the world weary detective bureau; the standardized cynic, alcoholic brute; and the (usually badly written) detectives who play both sides against the middle and what you'll find are deeply conflicted, complex men and women with motives as mixed as a glass of desert water. Settings, by contrast, in both film and fiction tend to the ordinary beneath all the stagy lighting and camera angles.

Book: Thomas h cook, the interrogationThe ability to plumb, collect and sort the complexity in character and motivation while using such simple settings as amusement parks, interrogation rooms and third-hand pawn shops indicates a writer deeply versed not just in the tropes but in the deeper honest beauty of noir fiction.

Cook's novel begins under the simplest of pretenses. By 6 a.m., Detectives Cohen and Pierce must crack the alibi of Albert Jay Smalls, a homeless man with strong connections to the scene of a child's murder, or release him. Over the course of twelve hours, the investigation leads back to darker pasts and obsessions, family ties for all men involved in this post WWII Los Angeles case.

Book: Thomas H Cook, placesin the darkEven though the guilty emerge identifiable in this expertly plotted work, Cook understands that the heart of crime in noir fiction has arteries and veins all of its characters and, by extension, all of us. Albert Jay Smalls seems to understand this when he repeatedly claims his share of guilt -- not for the crime in question, but for being first witness to a crime he fails to prevent as he watches it unfolds. In The Interrogation, Cohen and Pierce and the chief of police all obsess memorably with lost children, innocence, and intimacy. Even the stock violent detective displays a fresh intelligence and later, a tad-too-much interest for comfort in the truth of his own part in the investigation.

The Interrogation evokes L.A. Confidential without the hyperventilating style of Ellroy's prose. It offers a far more relaxed, clockwork inevitable, turn of the screws style of suspense and revelation. Simple settings, relaxed prose, dash of blood, a half score of grey or black consciences with hearts that beat in such unflinching characters as these -- that, dear reader, makes beautiful noir. I think I breathed twice the whole time I read.

Michael Pacholski

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