Riley Kovachs
Created by Gordon DeMarco

This one reads like Sam Spade, but with Hammett's politics jammed right in your face. And I mean right in your face. If you're just biding time, waiting for the revolution, RILEY KOVACHS, one of Pluto Press' politically-correct detectives, is worth checking out. He works the politically-charged mean streets of Hammett's city by the bay and his cases invariably find him sniffing around the labour movement of the thirties through the fifties.

Like a politicized Nate Heller or a sort of a retro-Dan Fortune, author DeMarco manages to bring a P.I. slant to historical events. And he seems to share Toby Peters' penchant for running into celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Frances Farmer and Satchel Paige. It's just too bad that the first (or is it second?) book, October Heat, is so darn earnest. Overblown, overwritten and overly preachy. The preachiness itself probably would go down a whole lot easier to take if it wasn't rammed down our throats by the overblown Chandlerisms that seem to pop up every sentence or two. I mean, "I stopped and sniffed the night. Murder was in the air. I could smell it." Sheeesh!

Fortunately,DeMarco's heart seemed to be in the right place and, by the next book, Frisco Blues, it looks like he had gotten himself an editor. It's a major improvement. The prose is much more terse and tense. And it comes in at least sixty pages shorter. It's too bad Riley never showed up in another novel because it looked like DeMarco had got the hang of it. After all, Riley's a likable guy, a self-confessed "small-change dick", a baseball buff who genuinely likes people, and wants to help, even if he does wear his politics on his sleeve. Give him a Chesterfield to smoke and a cup of scorch to gripe about and he's ready to go off at tilt at a few windmills.

He comes about his politics naturally, though, working in the tire plants back home in Akron and on the docks in San Francisco before becoming a gumshoe. Another reason I wish the series had been continued is the fact that deep down, I figure DeMarco had a pretty good sense of humour. Tell the truth, who'd a thunk any character outside of a JAMES BOND novel or a typesetter's fantasy would be called Helvitica Bolde?

And, amidst all the over-the-top tuffdick-speak, he did come up with at least one good film noir/femme fatale line: "It was easier to kiss Lana Birdwell than to trust her." (October Heat)

NOVELS

  • The Canvas Prison (1982)
  • October Heat (1979)
  • Frisco Blues (1985)
  • SHORT STORIES

    Thanks to Big Al Hubin for the hot tip on the first.


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