Ryan Lovely

Created by Daniel Pyne

Although Catalina Eddy, the 2017 novel he appears in, is not a private eye novel, RYAN LOVELY most definitely is a private eye.

The thing is, he's just one of three protagonists (but I'd argue the most important one) in Daniel Pyne's ambitious three-part "novel in three decades."

The whole concept's sure to bring comparisons to Ariel Winter's The Twenty-Year Death from 2012, and with good reason. It's an equally ballsy, deliberately literary, loosely connected trilogy that wants to say something about us now by mining the crime fiction of the past.

But whereas Winter's opus strived to mimic the stylistic nuances of three definitive voices of crime fiction from three consecutive decades (Simenon in the 30s, Chandler in the 40s and Thompson in the 50s), Pyne plays it looser, both stylistically and chronologically.

Not that Pyne isn't after big noir game. We're meant to take the Catalina Eddy of the title, a real-life weather phenomenon alternately known as the "June gloom" that occurs along the Southern California coast, as a darkly ominous metaphor for the stream of corruption and greed that runs through all three sub-novels: The Big Empty, Losertown and Portugese Bend.book.

The first novel, The Big Empty, which takes place in Los Angeles mostly in June 1954, is the one that deliberately echoes Chandler, right down to its title. Its hero, Lovely, is a Hollywood private eye who nurses his regrets, both personal and professional, like multiple bruises. He stubbornly inserts himself into the murder investigation of his ex (who left him for his best friend). Lovely knows solving the case won't really solve anything, but maybe "somebody gets saved."

That's about all Lovely can hope for -- even his cop buddy urges him to drop the case, which turns out be more sad, painful and dangerous than either counted on. It becomes a toxic miasma of Cold War fear-mongering, dirty secrets and even filthier politics, ending in as bitter and heart-rending a conclusion as anything Chandler himself could have conjured.

But surprisingly, somebody does get saved (at least temporarily): Gil Kirby, the young boy whom Lovely sought to protect returns in the second novel, Losertown, set in June 1987 San Diego. Gil, now grown up, is a mid-level Federal Prosecutor being forced by his ambitious new boss, Sabrina Colter, a ruthless young Reaganite appointee with no discernible soul, to compel a long retired former weed dealer turned successful (and legit) small business owner to become an informant against a rising Mexican drug cartel.

Finally, in Portugese Bend, we fast-forward up the coast to June 2016 in Long Beach, where Riley McCluggage, a wheelchair-bound homicide cop facing possibly her last days on the job, and obsessive crime scene shutterbug Finn Miller team up to crack the murder of one Charlie Ko, a twenty-something salesman who everyone thinks was killed by his wife Willa, a young Marine Gunnery Sergeant who offers only a thousand-yard stare to their questions (and may --- or may not --- be Gil Kirby's daughter).

These are not happy stories. The innocent suffer and the good are betrayed. Lives are broken, and lovers betrayed. People die. And very rarely, despite Lovely's fondest hopes, does anybody get "saved."

The author's metaphoric description of the eponymous eddy as "bleak, gray, indefatigable, cycling through the same wretched human crimes and calamities over and over again," sounds like a death sentence. But then he injects so much hot and messy humanity and empathy into his characters that they become heroic, despite them or ourselves, simply by getting up each morning.

Rise again.


  • "Daniel Pyne flips all the standards upside-down with Catalina Eddy and in the process delivers a classic California noir -- times three. This is Pyne's masterpiece. I guarantee no reader will go wanting."

-- Michael Connelly


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. An earlier version of this review was published in Mystery Scene. Used with permission.

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