MARK COGGINS. The Immortal Game (1999).

06 Oct

Just how good can a work of pastiche be? How captivating can a novel be that hews tightly to a course that another writer has well and famously charted? On the evidence of this squat, solid volume—published handsomely by a small California-based press, complete with chapter-opening photographs by the author—the answer to that question would seem to be “pretty darn captivating.” ImmortalGame page.jpgThe novel, whose archetype is one part Hammett and two parts Chandler, has a narrative verve and a literary polish that similar works of homage often lack. Hero and narrator August Riordan lives and works in the very same locales where Hammett’s Sam Spade (and Hammett himself) lived and worked, and he exhibits a blend of smark-aleck patter and romantic alienation that closely mimics the persona of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Like those literary forerunners, moreover, he inhabits a world that plausibly combines sordid realism with the free-floating unreality of a fairy tale. Coggins even uses chess, Marlowe’s favorite pastime, as a central plot device. But the author also uses software piracy, the S&M club scene, and other aspects of late-modern San Francisco to update his familiar story of dangerous women and deceitful men. Most appealingly, he uses the city itself to great effect, moving his sad, jazz-playing knight-errant like a chess piece across the fog-hemmed streets of North Beach, Nob Hill, and the Tenderloin.

[ADDENDUM: Just about a month ago, I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Long before moving there, though, I harbored a fascination with that region and especially with the magical city at its center, and therefore I sought out works of detective fiction set in those precincts. To mark this move, I will devote my next several posts here to reviews of novels that fall into that category. Some of these works use their Bay Area setting more effectively or more evocatively than others. On that score, this début effort by Coggins (who also maintains a great blog, where he often writes about mystery-related goings-on in and around San Francisco) hits “the top of the mark,” so to speak.]


Posted by on October 6, 2010 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel


5 responses to “MARK COGGINS. The Immortal Game (1999).

  1. Ken Warren

    October 7, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    I loved the b/w photos. I particularity liked the way that Mark captured the narcissistic pose of the Oracle Building.

  2. Mike

    October 7, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    Off-hand, I don’t remember that photo, and I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t recall anything about the Oracle Building–or about most other details in the book. The photos were a great enhancement to the book, and I was sorry to see that a more recent edition of it (from Bleak House, I think) didn’t include them. Not sure about the still more recent re-issue.

  3. Ken Warren

    October 7, 2010 at 5:00 PM


    Oracle Office Buildings

    “They were off the Redwood Shores Parkway across from a set of round glass buildings of varying heights that looked like a loser’s dwindling stake of poker ships. The buildings comprised the campus of Oracle Software, the second largest software corporation in the world, and a company about as far away from losing as you can get in Silicon Valley.”

    The picture is posted on flickr Too bad they left them out.

  4. Mike

    October 7, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    D’oh! I didn’t make the connection to THAT Oracle Building (or set of buildings), although I should have made it. I do now live in the area, and have seen that dark, hulking complex from 101 quite often. That’s a fine description of it by Coggins, with a great simile and a great turn-of-phrase.

    I haven’t read any of the subsequent August Riordan adventures, and I certainly need to. But I want to read editions that feature those moody, aptly chosen photos.

  5. ifagoddess

    October 31, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    Great site. Thanks for the link to Noir Journal. Will link back.
    Mike L.


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