Book Review: Leigh Brackett’s No Good From A Corpse

Below is another post from one of my students. If you have time to leave feedback, it would be much appreciated:

nogoodfromacorpse

Not very far into this book I thought to myself, this woman writes like a man. Before going any further, I decided to find out a bit more about her and lo and behold, film director Howard Hawks had been under the same impression, apparently saying “Get me that Brackett guy”, or words to that effect. The name Leigh could have been mistaken for a man, and in 1946 it was unlikely that a woman would write in the hard-boiled manner Brackett had done. Hawks hired her as a scriptwriter for The Big Sleep, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel. He, Hawks, had not been impressed by the story of No Good from a Corpse but thought Brackett wrote in the Chandler vein.

Begging to differ with the great man, I enjoyed the story. But who am I to judge? Set in Los Angeles, it has snappy and direct dialogue and the right characters for the genre. The tough guy private detective Edmond Clive has a“wide, mischievous  grin [that] did a lot for his face ”, which was sinewy and angular. Apparently, he could look tougher than the people he sent up, yet “…his eyes were alert and friendly, his smile nice.” You did not get much humour from him though, even when his side kick Jonathan Ladd Jones, supposed to be on a job, was held captive by two dubious women. Clive found Johnny, a large blonde on his knee, peeping through pink chiffon and ruffles. Needless to say, there had been a bit of gin involved. Clive fights with the blonde. “You come one step closer honey and I’ll land you one square in the wind.” His contribution to humour, when he and Johnny were leaving, was “If she does that well with gin bottles, what couldn’t she do pitching for the Yankees!” Clive is struck on the head, badly beaten up and hit by a car. He’s quick with his fists and not averse to slapping women. So there’s a little bit of violence throughout.

Clive’s girlfriend is Laurel, a nightclub singer, popular, but has a past and is afraid of someone or something. An old friend of Clive’s, Mark Hammond, his wife Jane, her brother and sister (Richard and Vivien) and Kenneth Farrar, who had been hanging around Laurel, are all connected with intrigue. Then Laurel is murdered, and Clive is determined to find her killer and clear Hammond. Laurel’s husband, who had recently been released from prison, is a suspect along with his ex cell mate Big Fella, but in a violent episode they are both killed, and later, Farrar.

Sugar, hat check girl at the club, and Vivien are both femme fatales, although Sugar has a fatal “accident” quite early on, Vivien lasts a bit longer. She’s flirtatious and curvy but psychotic and amoral.  There are not many suspects left alive at the end of the novel, but Clive is hard-boiled to the end, protecting Jane and her family, including the deranged Vivien, by allowing her a tough, violent watery end rather than the courtroom.

No Good from a Corpse was Brackett’s only full length novel in that style. In his essay Leigh Brackett: Much More Than the Queen of Space Opera! ,  Bertil Falk admired her because she moved freely between genres, without apparent difficulty: film scripts, westerns and fantasy, being prolific in science fiction. David L. Vineyard remarks on her “Chandleresque observation”,  the book almost being a parody of the form. Whereas Andrea Janes (Spinster Aunt) felt respect for this woman who writes like a man, until she read it, asking “Was this a hard-boiled masterpiece and not a little piece of pastiche?” I cannot make my mind up on that issue. Andrea also has issues on what she calls “casual misogyny” and general tough guy posturing. Isn’t this part of the genre?

The book is like a journey. Sometimes fast and then slower but the dialogue keeps the suspense going. It is violent: Clive takes the law into his own hands, but I was caught up in the story. Maybe it’s a pity Brackett didn’t continue Clive’s character in a sequel. He might have lightened up a bit.

By Erica Gregson

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This entry was posted in 2013, Courses, Crime Fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: Leigh Brackett’s No Good From A Corpse

  1. Pingback: Women in Scandinavian and British Crime Fiction | Prevailing Westerlies

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