Review published on January 23, 2018.
William Creedle has taken the step of publishing his own novel, cutting out the middle man. His new crime thriller, Mother of Pearl, might loosely be described as a police procedural. It’s also a homage to the golden age of noir, the novels of Chandler and Hammett. But don’t get carried away with the idea of this being nostalgic because this story is modern and violent and at times ugly.
Every once in a while a shot of pulp is good for the soul. A bit of fun that wiles away a few hours, something you don’t have to think about too deeply. Mother of Pearl is at times nihilistic and there are no morally complex characters but it doesn’t matter, it’s just entertainment.
Mother of Pearl is set in present day Washington DC and God help anyone unlucky enough to live in this hell hole, a cornucopia of corruption. We have a damaged hero, Knox, bent out of shape on drugs. He only gets around to doing the right thing when he finds himself on the wrong side of some very nasty people. It becomes a matter of survival. Add to that corrupt cops, shady businessmen, drug dealers and street gangs and you have a powder keg waiting to go off.
It all starts so simply, Knox has to find a missing teenager and bring her home to daddy. Knox is a hard drinker with a predilection for pot, heroin and ritalin. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Chloe, who may have just walked out with his wallet as he OD’d on the floor. Knox’s partner is Brewer, they both work homicide in North West D.C. But that’s not all they do, they take assignments from Jack Mercy, Washington Chief of Detectives. What they call ‘remediations’, fixing things; vanishing DUI’s for errant college rich boys or busting pimps muscling in on protected high class prostitutes. And, of course, recovering runaways. Adam van Buren is filthy rich, his daughter Constance, 16 years old, has gone missing. Knox and Brewer are tasked with finding the girl and keeping it on the QT. As experienced detectives it doesn’t take long to figure out she’s a troubled teen. Constance has a boyfriend, he’s a dealer and she has a drug habit. Tracking the dealer down and rescuing the messed up teenager is an afternoon’s work. All pretty standard until she tells the detectives that her dad killed her mum 15 years ago. The cosy pampered life everyone believes she has been living has been blighted by this knowledge, that’s why she is out of control. Knox warns van Buren to get his daughter into rehab pronto. Next day Knox and Brewer are investigating the murder of a young black man, his burned body seems to be the result of a gang war. Also, Constance has gone missing again. Several dead teenagers later the gang rivalry between the Bloods, Crips, MS 13 (Salvadorians) and the police kicks off, Knox suffers a near fatal overdose and a long unsolved crime all put Knox and his partner in the cross hairs.
The story rarely unfolds as you expect, there are some nice twists and wrong turns that keep the plot interesting. Mother of Pearl has some classic elements of pulp; the city’s dark underbelly, widespread corruption, shady heroes, villains in every direction and a high body count. Creedle writes in a style that reflects a love of the noir era. There are lots of references to a bygone age (e.g. the mother of pearl handle revolver), which are fun for the initiated. The story is well told. Mother of Pearl is a nod to the values of the 1940s but this a less virtuous age, money talks more than ever. Think of the difference between the Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) in the Hustler and the Tom Cruise character Vincent in The Colour of Money. For me the problem is that even Knox has no real redeeming features so its a little hard to like him or to empathise with any character. That may work for some but it will put a lot of readers off. On a more positive note, the plot is high velocity, the dialogue is strong, occasionally witty and believable and the streets and locations fit the action. This is a dystopian view of a modern American city, almost a satire and a few hours of no strings attached fun.
Paul Burke 3/2
Mother of Pearl by William Creedle
9781973358077 pbk Dec 2017