WADE MILLER. Uneasy Street (1948).

02 Jan

The name Max Thursday carries a whiff of satire; it seems to emanate from the same source that gave Garrison Keillor a name (Guy Noir) to call his comic radio private eye. But Thursday is the real deal, a tough and breezy operative who plies his trade in San Diego much as his fictional colleagues Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe ply their trade in those great cities to the north, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He’s a figure of pastiche, not of parody, and this sophomore outing in the Thursday series borrows competently from the twists and tropes that drive earlier classics of the P.I. genre—The Maltese Falcon, in particular. Here, as in that story, the sleuth-hero falls in with a crew of schemers who sometimes work together and sometimes work at cross-purposes. UneasyStreet2.jpg Either way, intrigue ensues, and killings ensue as well. What unites these shady characters is their quest for a certain object of desire. Uneasy Street, in fact, is a tale of two such MacGuffins. First, there is an antique music box that Thursday receives from an old woman at the start of the book. No sooner does he take custody of the item than someone comes along and stabs the woman to death. Thursday flees the scene, keenly aware that what he’s carrying is no mere trifle. Second, there is a painting by Velázquez, El Bobo de Coria (“The Fool of Coria”), which not only serves as an eminently chase-worthy “dingus” but also also nods toward a theme that underlies every tale of this type: Desire, the yearning to acquire, is folly. A subsidiary theme, of course, is that we need a wise fool—a jester who appears in the form of a detective—to reveal that truth to us.

The case unfolds over the span of less than two days and culminates early on the morning of Christmas Day. Most of the action, including two murders, occurs on Christmas Eve Day, and Miller punctuates his fast-moving narrative with references to the last-minute shopping frenzy and the holiday merry-making that occupy ordinary San Diego folk. Miller doesn’t have anything terribly new to say about life and death and love and greed, but he—or “they,” since a pair of writers lay behind the Miller pen name—delivers his wisdom with the requisite casual noir poetry. (Concerning an art collection owned by a client of Thursday’s, the author observes: “Here was no museum resulting from love of art or even precious things. It represented mere possession. The result was the same as emptying a small boy’s pockets except that the great vault laid bare an old man’s soul.”) Miller also delivers a solid trick plot; like the music box that Thursday lugs around with him throughout this adventure, it contains a seamlessly hidden secret.


Posted by on January 2, 2014 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel, Puzzle


3 responses to “WADE MILLER. Uneasy Street (1948).

  1. John

    January 4, 2014 at 5:28 PM

    Last year I read the first two Max Thursday books. Had never read anything by “Wade Miller” until then though, of course, I have a small pile of their books. Enjoyed both books. Quite a lot, in fact. Loved the surprise reveal of the killer in GUILTY BYSTANDER, the very first of the Max Thursday books. It’s very good for a series character’s debut. Ever see the movie of that one?. Pretty true to the book. Zachary Scott makes a somewhat sullen Max but then again he is a recovering alcoholic. Still Scott serves up a good portrayal of a tough and cynical PI. Second book in the series is FATAL STEP which features some commentary on the Asian American community in Southern California without a trace of bigotry or irony. Insightful, intelligent and compassionate. FATAL STEP also has a carny setting, something that I love in my private eye and noir fiction. I never got around to writing reviews for either book because I’ve been planning on a “Neglected Detective” post on Max Thursday when I finish the rest of the books this year. Good to know about the Christmas theme in this one. Maybe I’ll save it for December.

    • Mike

      January 5, 2014 at 7:53 AM

      I’ve read just this one book in the Thursday series. I generally like to start out with the first title in a series, but I don’t own a copy of “Guilty Bystander.” Harper Perennial issued 4 of the 6 Thursday books back in the 1980s, but along with publishing just two-thirds of the series, it neglected to publish the début work. Go figure. In any event, I picked up “Uneasy Street” a while back, when I was visiting San Diego; it seemed, as I thumbed through it, to have the most local color of 4 re-issued novels. And it not only delivered on that front, but also proved to be an exemplary book of its kind—a 1940s-era hardboiled tale that stands up pretty well alongside the likes of Raymond Chandler and Howard Browne. (One point of interest is that Miller foregoes the then-typical smart-alecky first-person narration but retains most other tropes of this sub-genre.)

  2. Cavershamragu

    January 10, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Never read this one but I’m a big Miller fan – thanks Mike, I must track it down.


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