If you were ever a library rat, you know the feeling of walking between tall shelves of mostly hardcover books with conspicuous, transparent white stickers on their spines where the serial numbers are placed. You know the smell of old books, dusty and decaying, and that constant, low-key war between the noisy and the quiet. And the librarians, old (always old) and cranky, but inevitably helpful.
It was at just such a place ten years ago, or thereabouts, that I stumbled on a particular book which I’ve not been able to forget since. No, that’s only half true: I’ve forgotten its title, its author and most of its plot. But I remember its broad sketches, with its belly-slapping one-liners and lovable main character.
It described a middle-aged, slightly overweight private detective who is down on his luck. The setting may have been Los Angeles or Miami, I can’t remember. At any rate, it was sunny and warm with beaches, string bikinis and oiled bodies, everyone tanned and lovely. That is, everyone except the main protagonist, through whose voice the reader experiences the place. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (though this game hadn’t been created back then).
He drove one of those massive American cars, you know the ones that become lowriders in all the gangster movies. In one of the more memorable scenes in the book I remember him hilariously trying to park this huge thing and complaining about the difficulty of parking his all-American battle tank in the new parking spaces whose dimensions were more suited to smaller Japanese cars.
I also remember that it was loaded with one-liners. I mean it was literally a treasure trove of come-backs, put-downs and joyous rascality, offered up by a likeable, sexually frustrated guy who liked to wash down his aspirin with beer.
I can’t remember any of the jokes either.
In a sense, I don’t remember this book as a book at all, but rather as a movie with moving frames and action. I can hear the roar of his old Chevy when he started it up; I feel the humidity clinging tightly to his skin, and shudder when that single ball of sweat finally decides to zip down the centre of his back. And I see those massive sweat patches under his mandatory (and obviously cheap) suit as he goes about his business solving cases. What about the ceiling fan whirling above in his matchbox office, or the wealthy, lovesick sophisticate who acts as his foil in the story? It is all there floating in my head.
Maybe you know what book this is, though I doubt it, even Google doesn’t.