Monday, April 14, 2014

Fade to Blonde

Max Phillips
Fade to Blonde

Hard Case Crime, 2004

Ray Corson virtually works for free for a local building contractor, and it starts to bother him. Corson came to Hollywood as a screenwriter, but also tried himself in the ring, in front of the camera, and now doing odd jobs. When an attractive blonde finds him and asks to help her with one thing, Corson immediately quits his job, knocking out the payment from his boss.

A blonde named Rebecca LaFontaine (of course, a pseudonym) offers a small sum of money for Corson so he would help her get rid of a persistent suitor Lance Halliday, and for get rid of him the girl means to kill him. Corson is not ready to kill and offers simply to scare Halliday with more peaceful ways. Halliday owns a small film studio, engaged in the production of pornographic films, as well as on the side deals drugs. While Ray is looking for ways to approach Halliday, the dead bodies begin to pile up.

It is not difficult to guess that Phillips wrote an homage to paperback novels from the 50s. The detective hero himself came as if from noir novel (eventually Corson considers killing Halliday and solving all problems), but the novel’s plot here is purely mystery. Phillips plays by the rules, scattering hints and pieces throughout the text, but doing without trickery.

Charm of Fade to Blonde lays not only in the plot and style. The novel reads more like a book from 40s or 50s that has been forgot and only now was found. It is perfect to learn to distinguish the original from the copy. Connoisseurs of old PBO novels will find the whole scenes and the individual words that you can read here, but never could find in the paperbacks of the middle of the last century.

«"You can touch one for a dollar, "she said.


"Give me a dollar," she said, drying her back.

After a moment, I took a dollar from my pocket and handed it to her. She folded it twice and tucked it under the right strap of her suit, then swung my towel around her shoulders like a shawl. Beneath it, she lowered her left strap. She took hold of my right hand, slipped it under the towel, and placed it on her breast. It was heavy and firm. The skin was still cold and goose-pimpled, but I could feel the heat inside.»

This scene gives a particularly good idea of the differences between the two eras. I find it difficult to imagine that such an episode would find a place somewhere in the book of a detective imprint (although we can not exclude softcore publishers).

Fade to Blonde is a clever homage and strong whodunit.


  1. Sounds interesting--not sure I'm philosophically sympathetic to just writing a facsimile of an earlier style of crime fiction. But if you're going to do that, you certainly want to get published by Hard Case Crime.

    Pretty sure Jim Thompson talked about breasts, and his protagonists do more than just look at them--honestly, Jim Thompson is obscene by the standards of any era of fiction, anywhere in the world. I mean that as a sincere compliment. I do not want to live anywhere people aren't shocked by his stuff.

    Thanks for reviewing this.

    1. Well, Thompson had three (?) hardcovers published. That means he was half-serious, half-lightweight. Strangely in HCs writers were allowed to obscenities, PBs had more censorship.

    2. Hmm--are you perchance familiar with the work of Dan J. Marlowe?

      I don't think he EVER had a hardcover published. If there was any censorship there, it's damned hard to see what it might have been.

      Paperbacks, I would have said, were more lurid and over-the-top than hardcovers, but it depends--after all, Lolita was a hardcover, but that was 'art'. And it aroused a thousand times more controversy than all the crime novels ever written. I think they tended to get away with stuff precisely because almost nobody took the genre as a whole seriously, regardless of binding.

    3. I haven't read Marlowe, but I believe he had published HCs, but only in UK (and that doesn't count).

    4. He's pretty unfettered, at least in his early books. He toned it down quite a bit later, when he basically transitioned into writing espionage novels. Only his crime fiction is worth going to any great trouble for, IMO. Of which I've read "The Name of the Game is Death" and "One Endless Hour". And they are decidedly not for pussies. Not as well written as Thompson's best work, but they are, if possible, even more outrageously inappropriate.

      Honestly, a girl asking a guy for a dollar to feel her boob would qualify as wholesome in those books. :)

    5. I think I have The Vengeance Man of all his books. I need to find it and read it.

  2. The Vengeance Man is heavily influenced by Jim Thompson, I'd say. Good stuff.

  3. Never heard of this author but would like to read him. Thanks for the review.