Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime, 2004)
We wanted to like this one but it was hard. It starts off great, a first-person narrative in the hard-boiled voice: Ray Corson came to Los Angeles to write for the movies but has only optioned a few treatments. He’s done some extra work as an actor, but he’s hard to cast, being a big, muscular guy suitable for manual labor, which is hoiw he has been surviving.
A blonde comes to him help: Rebecca LaFontaine; she claims a local thug is harassing her snd she wants him off her back. Despite some warnings that this dame might be a nutcase, he takes the job because it’s money and there’s nothing better to do.
No year is given, but there are clues that the story takes place in the 1950s or 60s: Roy writes on a manual typewriter with carbons; his labor job [pays $17 a day…
The novel won the Shamus Award 2004 for Best Paperback Original, albeit Roy is not a private eye per se, he does sleuth and he does speak like a cousin of Mike Hammer or Matthew Scudder. However, the narrative is convoluted with banter and what reads like padding to make the book 70,000 words. The real story in these pages is probably a tight 40,000 word short novel, but the publishers don’t like those 1960 lengths for paperbacks anymore.