You know you have a hardboiled novel in your hands when Chapter One starts like this:
She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size-eight dame in a size-six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it . . .
It’s 1947 in San Francisco and Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin is tending bar the night that a gal called Stilton walks in, as described above. She’s no floozy, despite appearances, or who cares if she is, because before he really knows what’s going on Sammy is three sheets to the wind in love with her. He’s also head over heels in the midst of a business opportunity that involves extracting the urine from a deadly mamba (and I do not mean mocking it), plus another that requires him to find a bunch of wholesome lasses who’ll go be unwholesome at a weekend gathering of wealthy movers and shakers. And then there’s the news of a mysterious crash landing in far-off Roswell, New Mexico . . .
Purists may not like it that someone — presumably the author himself — had the idea of letting Christopher Moore loose on noir/hardboiled fiction, but personally I loved the results. The convoluted tale is told largely by Sammy himself, in a style that shimmies around among those of various hardboiled writers of yore; I recognized several of the voices without being able to put a name to them, a glorious exception being Damon Runyan, whose voice takes over for a goodly section early in the novel and reappears more briefly several times later.
(There’s also another narrator, whose identity we don’t learn until late in the proceedings. All I can say here is that it’s someone you more than somewhat don’t want to mess with.)
But the novel’s a lot more than parody and pastiche. The plot, as you might expect from a piece of noir or neonoir, has more kinks than a Fifty Shades novel, and the characters (some of whom put me in mind of those in Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder books) for the most part leap off the page. It’s leavened with jokes galore, the vast majority of them very good ones. (“What are you doing in there?” my wife asked as I fell around laughing in the, er, reading room.) My only qualm about the plot was that there are some rather perfunctory moppings-up of bad guys toward the end, as if Moore knew they had to be got rid of but was worried about outstaying his welcome. But I was quite happy to live with that — and with a couple of painfully strained jokes — for the sake of all the rest.
For me, this isn’t quite up there with a couple of Moore’s other novels, notably Lamb, but it comes very close indeed. And that’s a more than somewhat high standard to achieve.