Not too long ago, I had the chance to read Noble, the first in a trilogy of mystery/science fiction books starring 1940s private investigator Miller Brinkman.
Author David Hulegaard creates an interesting world that mixes small town life with the big city of Washington, D.C., and a secret government installation thrown in for good measure. His protagonist, Brinkman, has to navigate all three as he tries to figure out what happened to a missing teenager named Jane.
The setting and characters fit in well for noir fiction. The small-town felt suitably inward, the perfect place for a teen to go missing and for a troubled PI to feel put upon enough to investigate, even though he initially prefers not to.
It took a little while for me to really get a sense that the book was set in the 1940s... though I'm not sure why. I think it may have been a mixture of two things: First, the small town where the book starts... I'm not used to that in noir, though that may be inexperience on my part, both with noir books and small towns. Perhaps I have watched too many Bogart movies set in L.A. to pick up on a noir vibe in a small-town setting.
And second, some of the character's speech felt more modern than I would have expected. Not so much modern slang, but rather a lack of 1940s slang. Or perhaps I missed the rhythm of the film noir dialogue that I'm used to. To be fair, I don't read much noir, and I'm sure there's a greater variety in the books than in the films I've seen from Bogart and Hitchcock. And at least one reader on Amazon found the lack of cliched detective speak to be refreshing. So there's a balance. I'm a fiend for snappy dialogue personally, so I'm biased.
By the time the story moves to Washington, D.C., and we meet Brinkman's ex-girlfriend, the setting felt a little more like an old Sam Spade story. So all is not lost.
The slight delay in feeling the story settle into its timeframe wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was outweighed by the things I liked about the book. For example, Jane's stubborn teenage friend, who insists on hiring a PI, was very likeable. Even though Brinkman has his weaknesses (like a good noir protagonist should), he's also sympathetic. I found it easy to root for him. The writing flowed well, so the book is a quick read overall.
There was enough mystery to keep me asking questions as I read along. I was able to see a few plot twists coming before they arrived, but there was at least one thing that I didn't see coming. I'm fond of books that keep me guessing, so Noble gets credit for that.
Also, the science fiction part of the story was done well and it fits in perfectly with the 1940s noir setting. Mash-ups aren't always easy to do, and they don't always work that well. (See my opinion of Cowboys and Aliens for an example of a messy mash-up.) I think Hulegaard picked a mash-up that makes a great deal of sense, and he pulls it off in a suitable way.
As with an early book by any author (I believe this is Hulegaard's first published book), there are areas for improvement. Here and there, the writing could probably have been tighter, the description a little more punchy. The small-town sheriff definitely seemed a bit cliched. And I would have liked the book to showcase a little more of the seamy underbelly of life, which is what I like in noir. (For example, Brinkman's vice seems to be pie. Not leggy women who are trouble. Not the bottle. Not gambling debts. But pie. That was too tame for me.) These are relatively small quibbles, though, and I think they are a matter of taste.
Now, the idea behind the book... that was very intriguing. It's got a good, solid premise. I wouldn't mind seeing where Hulegaard plans to go next with the story. Overall, I'd recommend checking out Noble, especially if you like science fiction and noir fiction, or if you like genre mash-ups.
Buy the book on Amazon or visit the author's website. Follow him on Twitter: @hulegaardbooks.
Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.