LEIGH BRACKETT. No Good From a Corpse (1944).

20 May

Hollywood private investigator Edmond Clive, fresh from a big job in San Francisco, discovers that there’s plenty of trouble for him to investigate on his home turf. First, his best gal, a torch singer at a place on the Strip called the Skyway Club, suspects that someone is watching her, and not just because she’s a knockout. NoGoodCorpsePB.jpgNext, his boyhood best friend, Mick, wants him to figure out who has been sending nasty letters that threaten to rile up the family of rich neurotics into which Mick has recently married. Since Mick has been leaning on the torch singer’s shoulder while Clive was away, those two cases merge into a single helter-skelter crisis—and that’s before the singer gets bludgeoned to death with Mick’s blackthorn walking stick, even as Clive and Mick both slumber nearby.

Brackett wields these plot pieces to form a dead-on Raymond Chandler pastiche. Remarkably, just a few years after the first Philip Marlowe novel appeared, the classic subgenre that it inaugurated had reached full maturity. Even this book’s finishing twist, a real doozy in its own right, emerges like a half-remembered psycho-sexual nightmare straight out of The Big Sleep. The author also plays exuberantly with every other tic and trope in the Chandler repertoire, and rolls out wisecracking dialogue with high vigor, if not with originality. One archetypal device that goes unused, however, is that of first-person narration by the star detective. Brackett, a woman, presumably thought that writing in the voice of the ultra-masculine Clive might be one gesture of homage too many.

[ADDENDUM: Brackett had quite a career. She wrote a slew of science-fiction tales in the 1940s, mostly for hoary but fondly remembered pulp titles like Planet Stories and Startling Stories, and she penned a scattered few crime and mystery novels besides No Good over the course of several decades. But she’s best known for her work as a screenwriter, with screenplay credits that range—improbably enough—from the Bogart and Bacall classic The Big Sleep (1946) to the modern space-opera blockbuster The Empire Strikes Back (1979).]


Posted by on May 20, 2011 in American, Golden Age, Hard-Boiled, Novel


3 responses to “LEIGH BRACKETT. No Good From a Corpse (1944).

  1. George Kelley

    May 27, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    I’m a huge Leigh Brackett fan. NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE is one of her best books. Haffner Press is bringing out another volume of her work this summer.

    • Mike

      May 27, 2011 at 10:07 AM

      I certainly wish that someone would publish a good, standard trade edition of NGFAC. It’s a classic that deserves to be much, much better known than it is. (And, for my part, I’d like to have a decent copy of the book. Maybe I should just suck up the cost of buying the special Dennis McMillan edition.)

  2. Richard

    May 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    There’s so much interest in Brackett these days I doubt it will be long before there is a new edition of this one, which I have yet to read, but would like to. Thanks for the review, let me wipe the drool of my chin…


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