Thursday, February 3, 2011

Friday's Forgotton Book: Barry Fantoni's MIKE DIME

This is a tag-along to Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotton Books series which can be found here, and here.

MIKE DIME by Barry Fantoni, first British hardcover edition published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1990.  The dustjacket illustration is credited to Allan Morgan, and the rear cover is also excellent.  The title appears on the spine as if in neon lights.
The private eye in a trench coat, the car, the neon lights glowing in the foggy night.  A great dustjacket for a period piece set in 1948 Philadelphia, on the eve of the election between Dewey and Truman.

The plot is convoluted in a parody of Raymond Chandler, and the prose and the sardonic tone are often very funny.  There are lots of fistfights, gunfights, and blood, but even these are funny in Fantoni's hands.

The opening lines:
It was raining hard and cold out of a night sky.  As hard as it knew how.  Rain lashed the walls and spilt over the gutters and poured like gurgling bath water down choking drains.  Rain as cold as Atlantic waves hurled itself at everything in sight, drenching it through.
I was sitting in my office with my lights out and my feet on the desk. . .I picked up a dead bottle of cheap bourbon and dropped it into the waste basket.  It was time to get a drink, rain or no rain.  A bolt of lightning ripped across the sky and made way for a stuttering crescendo of thunder.  A pink neon sign winked on and off non-stop outside and its reflection hit the inside wall of my office.  Sometimes I winked back.
I hauled myself out of my chair and shuffled through the grove in my carpet to the hat stand by the door.  I put on my raincoat and hat and told the puddle in the corner I was going to drown somewhere else.  Then something unusual happened.  The phone rang.

Some other samplings of the prose:
 "She was in her late forties and her figure was spreading faster than spilled milk. A lot of her was almost into a peg-top velveteen skirt with slits that were too long and a frothy organdy blouse that needed buttoning. Her face was the color of uncooked bread, her lips were large and puffy and painted with less care than drunks count change."
"If Frenchy had something to say, I didn' hear it. Someone else was making noise. It was Mrs. Summers. She had pulled herself from the sofa and was running the length of the room toward the window. She was screaming at the top of her cracked voice. Her housecoat billowed like an open parachute as clenched her fists and smashed headlong into the glass. It splintered into a thousand angular fragments and let the falling woman through."
"The scream died on the air as Frank Summers widow took the short way down to the sidewalk ten floors below. For a second that lasted an hour we all stood open-mouthed, gaping at the jagged edges of the hole in the window, which rose and fell like the Himalayas, their peaks capped with glistening blood."
Here the plot is secondary to the existential sardonic attitude of the protagonist, to the noir atmosphere and the time-piece elements, to the relationship between Mike Dime and the femme fatale, and of course to the language.

There was a previous Mike Dime novel entitled Stickman, which also features a fine dustjacket illustration by Allan Morgan:
If you like authors who write using Chandleresque hyperbolic similes, you might also enjoy Philip Kerr's series of novels featuring Bernhard Gunther, starting with his terrific March Violets.  My list of some other good ones sharing elements of this style can be found here.

Today's Rap Sheet provides audio links to Raymond Chandler's novels: "Chandler In Your Ear." 



  2. I have the U.S. edition, too, and remember thinking it was pretty good stuff.