||First Novels - From Hard Boil through Golf to Dream
by Eva Tihanyi
Crime figures in all the novels this month, and where there is crime in fiction, sure enough there must be sleuths. In The Dark Embrace (Mercury, 224 pages, $15.95 paper) Paul Stuewe's "detective" hero is the unlikely Walter McDumont, a handsome young Canadian living as a hobo during the Depression. When the book opens, he is driving a cab in Los Angeles, unaware that his passenger is Raymond Chandler. Chandler, seeking fuel for his fiction, hires McDumont to help him research a wealthy local family, the Bronsons, and their shady past. Along the way, McDumont falls in love with the Bronsons' daughter, Penny, and gets entangled in their messy affairs as a result.
Overall, the book moves quickly and sustain the reader's interest. It is entertaining, Stuewe simultaneously paying tribute to, and playing with, the genre he is using: Chandler's own style of "hard-boiled" detective fiction. As in Chandler's work, there is realism and violence, a "gritty" world in which McDumont (like Philip Marlowe) tries to bring the guilty to justice. The cops are mean and corrupt; the damsel in distress is young and attractive; the hero is a tough guy with a soft spot. It is part of McDumont's charm that he doesn't take himself entirely seriously, not even when faced with a difficult situation:
"For a moment he thought about going back and shooting Harmon, killing him, then making the Wilsons take him to where Penny was being held. That's what would happen in one of Chandler's stories, the hero wouldn't be freezing his butt off out in the bushes."
Stuewe is no stranger to writing. Although, technically, this is his first novel, he has written a collection of essays and a biography of Hugh Garner, with whom he co-wrote a mystery novel, Don't Deal Five Deuces (1992), by finishing a manuscript that Garner left when died. That book also features Walter McDumont-a Toronto cop originally created by Garner in his three (completed) detective novels. It will be interesting to see where McDumont turns up next.