False Negative book review
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The dames are dying, the plot is thickening and the cover is definitely retro...
"False Negative" by Joseph Koenig
With the best-selling book charts seemingly full of novels about vampires, sparkly or otherwise, games of hunger and thrones, and fifty shades of shinola, it's refreshing to discover a book like False Negative by Joseph Koenig in the Shadowlocked review pool.
Instantly recognisable as a pulp noir novel from the lurid, slightly salacious front cover painting by Glen Orbik depicting a voluptuous redhead posing for a shadowy photographer wrapped in nothing but a blue sheet and a porn-star pout, False Negative is the tale of Adam Jordan, a young reporter in 1950s America who becomes embroiled in a tangled web of murder after being approached by Ed Pelfrey, editor of Real Detective, one of the last surviving 'dick books', the low rent true crime magazines that were popular in the mid twentieth century, to write for him.
Having been fired from the paper he was working for after making a serious journalistic error that threatens to ruin his reputation, Jordan's options are suddenly very limited, to one as it happens, and so he takes the job offered by Pelfrey, and this being a noir, things go downhill from there.
Initially following up the murder of an aspiring beauty queen, the story that had landed him the Real Detective gig, Jordan finds himself drawn into a world of dames, deceit and death that wouldn't feel out of place in L.A. Noire, the ground-breaking Xbox360 title from Rockstar Games or their recently released Max Payne 3, both of which share the hard boiled, sepia toned suspense of Koenig's novel, but from historically bookending perspectives.
As he begins to suspect there's more to the beauty queen murder than the police seem willing to believe, and more young women start turning up dead, Jordan introduces us to a number of well rounded characters including a coloured 'party girl' who has information but demands wining and dining to loosen her lips, a shady photographer who he uses to source certain things he can't get through official channels, an ambitious waitress who he had a brief thing with is trying to woo back, and even jazz legend Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong.
The greatest strength of Koenig's prose is the sense of authenticity that rises off the pages like smoke from the ashtrays of the clubs that Jordan frequently finds himself in, where blues and jazz men pour their hearts out through their instruments while pretty dancers for hire provide the eye candy, and where the social and racial divides of 1950's America that provide the backbone to Jordan's quest are most prevalent.
The world of the 'dick book' editor and writer feels very real, too, and so it's no surprise to learn that Koenig, writing about False Negative on the Titan Books website, reveals that he used to work as an associate editor on several true crime pulp magazines himself, writing up to seventy stories in an average year, and that as seedy and dangerous as Adam Jordan's world is portrayed in the novel, he actually had to tone the genuine experience down because readers would, ironically, find the reality unbelievable.
False Negative, which is actually Koenig's first book for almost twenty years, is a solid, entertaining thriller noir which will more than satisfy anyone with a love of thrillers or tales of hard boiled gumshoes, and on the strength of Adam Jordan's adventures in the seamy underbelly of New Jersey and New York, I'm hoping there won't be another couple of decades before the next one.
False Negative (Hard Case Crime) is released on the 22nd of June 2012 from Titan books
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