Now let’s clear up some misconceptions. Yes, there is an awful lot of violence in this book. Our hero commits murders as if they were no more moving nor onerous than blowing his nose, and the only person for whom he seems to feel anything approaching a positive emotion is a woman who can make people throw up simply by being at them. And yes, there is a long, long, and very forcefully expressed, speech about what it’s like being a porn actress, that leaves one with no illusions at all, and what one might call porn exotica does provide the mcguffin. And yes, pretty well all the characters are refuse from one or other intelligence agency’s experiments gone awry, which provides a background that explains some of the easy violence.
But that isn’t what this is about. All that is just part of establishing the milieu, a world of easy morals, lies within lies, quick violence, no law as such, beautiful easy dames and tough guys. Let’s just put it this way: the hero’s a LA private detective and his case involves a retired general with three daughters: the bossy one, the nice one and the one who’s into sex way too much for her own good. Yup, this is The Big Sleep for the twenty-first century.
And with that understanding, everything falls into place. Jones’ emotional disconnect from the world may have a more gruesome explanation than Marlowe’s, but it creates the same effect: of an amoral detective driven only by his own sense of justice and dislike of being made a patsy. And as a piece of noir fiction, this works terribly well. But where it goes one better is that it is satirical noir. This isn’t just about blackmail. It’s about blackmail over pictures of Hitler’s todger. Everything is just that little bit too bright, too strange, and it creates just the right amount alienation to make one wonder whether all of this is serious, whether what we think is the plot actually is the plot at all, and whether perhaps we’re missing the main act because we’ve been distracted by a side-show. And then, almost on the last page, we learn that we have.
The art-work, as you would expect from the illustrator of Promethea: Book One, is superb. Page layout is toyed with, we wander in and out of black-and-white, the images of characters are stylised so as to not show the speaker saying stuff but to show what it is their words are saying about them (to hilarious effect in the long porn-star speech), and it is, overall, beautiful to look at. So, putting it all together, a fine book, and I hope we see more or Mr Jones’ adventures.