Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #283: Archer Coe: "The Thousand Natural Shocks" by Rich & Christensen

Noir is always dependable. You know you'll get a guy in way over his head, at least one dame, some cops with their hats pushed back on their heads (and a skeptical attitude to match), and some nasty doings. And if it's not actually set it in the 1930s, it'll probably look like it is, with greasy-spoon diners and big cars and snooty butlers and the kind of nightclubs that stopped existing around the time your grandparents did.

Archer Coe: "The Thousand Natural Shocks" is that kind of noir: serious, dark, with a feckless rich guy and his dame and a mysterious serial killer called "the Zipper." Writer Jamie S. Rich has clearly studied the classics, from David Goodis to Jim Thompson, and artist Dan Christensen drips it all in inky blacks.

Their hero is the title character, a nightclub hypnotist who works under the name "The Mind's Arrow" and wears his mask (and three-piece suit, and bow-tie, and white gloves) everywhere -- he's dangerously close to knowing that he's a comic-book character and is dressing the part. He can also talk to cats -- they talk back, I mean: anyone can talk to cats -- which seems like it should be important to the story but never is.

In his spare time, Coe hypnotizes other people for other purposes, and he's hired by the millionaire Jack Midland to fix his wife Hope's frigidity. But the Zipper is running around town at the same time, killing people with his bare hands and tearing their hearts out, and the cops think that's Coe. Or, at least, they think they can pin it on Coe, which is good enough.

It gets complicated from there, as a noir should. (Though it's all a bit rococo for a noir, with the serial killer with flesh-slicing hands and a strong line in is-this-real-or-is-it-a-dream?) There's a hidden backstory for Coe and Hope and Jack, which Coe had apparently hypnotized them all to forget. (Rich is better at setting up bizarre scenes and frightening sights than at explaining them in great detail.)

Despite the title style, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for more adventures of Mr. Coe. Oh, it could happen -- maybe the cats will tell him something interesting, next -- but noirs tend to have one-off protagonists, who get burned down as far as they can go, if they survive at all. But this book is fine as it is: it's got a style and a feel all its own, even if the line between what really happened and what seemed to happen is as thin as a dame's sultriest lingerie.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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