Die A Little by Megan Abbott

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Die A Little by Megan Abbott

Buy Die A Little by Megan Abbott at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A hugely impressive debut novel that borrows from the cool of Raymond Chandler, the Hollywood noir of Ellroy's Black Dahlia and the excitement of a rollercoaster.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 978-1847393463

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I've always loved the works of Raymond Chandler. Philip Marlowe was never really the kind of character you'd think of if you were after a hero, but he always got the job done and I admired his effortless cool. I clearly wasn't the only one, as major writers such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz have attempted to imitate his style.

Now we have Megan Abbott, who is attempting to do the same; rather bravely for a debut novel. However, it appears that she is also a devotee of the works of Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and has learned much from them.

Bill and Lora King are a pretty ordinary pair; he an investigator for the District Attorney and she a school teacher. They are as close as a brother and sister can be until Bill meets and marries Alice, who was a seamstress for one of the Hollywood studios. Everything seems wonderful, Alice making house and Bill seeming happier than ever, but Alice comes with a past which is at odds with her new life and things keep appearing that makes Lora wonder who this Alice really was before she became Mrs King.

Despite it being the kind of thing she would never do and despite a distrust of the world Alice has seemingly come from, Lora decides to dig a little deeper into matters. She worries that if anyone but her uncovers Alice's past, it may damage her brother's reputation in the D. A.'s office and ruin his career, if not his whole life. But on the way, she encounters some quite unsavoury characters and situations and it may be her own life that is affected by her investigations.

I loved the way Abbott drew me into the story by making the whole thing seem so plausible. Whilst the setting was always 1950s Hollywood, this ensuring that I was always aware this was a novel, the way the characters acted always seemed completely real. You wouldn't expect a school teacher to suddenly become a convincing private eye and to be shooting it out with the bad guys and that never happened here. Lora King was someone who needed to work hard to find out what she knew and who stumbled across clues and used what she knew to make them work for her. There was no point where things happened in unbelievable ways; Abbott always wrote with one eye on who Lora King actually was before her suspicions were aroused and it made it more real and more gripping.

Abbott was always true to her own roots in the story as well. The 1950s setting was strictly adhered to, which made the main characters, being female, almost secondary in parts of their lives, as women of that era would still have been expected to be. Even the main characters, as strong as they were underneath, were little more than objects when it suited the men and some of the things that happened that would be frowned upon today were quite commonplace throughout the novel. I particularly enjoyed some of the phrases which you always seem to hear in 1950s books and films. Although the one which stood out for me was when Abbott describes someone's expression as her face a hieroglyphic, a phrase I adored from the first reading and which, even now, can mean something different every time it occurs to me once more.

Abbott's pacing was incredibly impressive, seeming to fit an awful lot of action and intrigue into what is a relatively short book, in much the same way as Chandler always used to. The setting up of events is covered fairly early on and from there, pretty much everything that happens is of significance, even if it's not always immediately obvious. Abbott is weaving a tapestry, but she's doing it at pace and something new is always potentially around the corner, up until the final act which, masterfully, Abbott has ended in a final nod to Chandler, with a sigh rather than a scream.

For all the influences and the nods to Raymond Chandler, however, Abbott does fall slightly short of matching his style. Whether it's because of the female lead and the way you see her treated, or even because Lora King is not an intentional investigator like Philip Marlowe, but Die A Little lacks the ultimate cool of Chandler. The narration is a little more rushed rather than completely controlled and King can be flustered in a way Marlowe so rarely was.

However, it is only by comparison that Abbott's work can fall down in any way and even then, it's only a pace or two behind one of the greats of the genre. What Abbott has given us, and this seems even more impressive considering it's a debut novel, is a tantalising glimpse into a world we can never hope to know but, like Lora King, cannot resist delving into to find out more, regardless of the cost to ourselves. In my case, this cost was a couple of nights without sleep; what will it cost you?

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of The End of Everything by Megan Abbott.

For more fiction set in the nineteen fifties, we can recommend Christine Falls by Benjamin Black which is set in Dublin or The Outcast by Sadie Jones for a quintessentially English setting. We also enjoyed Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen.

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Buy Die A Little by Megan Abbott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Die A Little by Megan Abbott at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Die A Little by Megan Abbott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Die A Little by Megan Abbott at Amazon.com.


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