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24 October 2013

Russell Blake: Black

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A great new, amusing character
Russell Blake has written a host of action-packed thrillers of all kinds. There was only one  - Geronimo Breach with "Al the Slob" - that gave a hint that Blake could write a book tinged with humour and self-deprecation. This is until he started to write this series about Artemus Black, a down-and-out PI immersed in the unreal world of Los Angeles entertainment make believe. Black is a great character and I hope he will be around for some time.

Much of this first book in the series is taken up with great character building of Black, his friends and his world in the make believe of Hollywood. Black leaves a spell in the military with a bad anger management complex and never seems to eliminate his anger or succeed in business. He becomes a songwriter and part of a band that is destined to be huge, but has to leave the band when he gets into an angry bar fight and breaks his hand the week before the beginning of a big tour. To pay his bills he signs over the rights to his songs (which go on became great hits) to his wife who has an affair with the attorney who winds up handling the inevitable divorce. After that he moved from one business failure to another, one of the best being his limousine service for the stars featuring his trademark hot pink stretched Humvee. He is then down to driving a 20 year old Cadillac convertible that threatens to break down at any time.

While Black is going through each day with the world against him, without any real effort his parents become mega-rich and his ex-wife tops the charts. As a last resort Black sets up his shingle as a PI in a dingy office, and just manages to make ends meet from day-to-day with small investigations. His only help is Roxie, a young hippy, smart but no-hoper receptionist. Even Mugsy, his stray cat believes that he is a soft touch and moves in and takes over his office. Blake shows us an, unfortunately very amusing, picture of a smart and basically very kind character who goes through each day believing that the world will always be against him.

At a time when Black is at the end of his emotional and financial tether he gets referred by a friend to provide security assistance to Andrew Hunter, one of the richest actor/director celebrities in Hollywood. Hunter has battled for years against personal attacks by the scandal sheet paparazzi. This time one of his budding young stars crashes on a mountain road after being chased by a van driven by paparazzi. Then a couple of paparazzi who sneak into a building to photograph Hunter in a key meeting about his new make-or-break film are blown up in a storage room.

Black shows that he has the skills to track down what is happening and uncovers a tangled web of deceit and hatred. Whenever he seems to be getting somewhere things turn against him and he is left to battle on his own. At the same time he shows basic kindness and understanding to most of the people he is trying to help.

It is interesting to me that Russell Blake has chosen a first name for his hero that he dislikes and nobody uses except his elderly still hippy parents. This has many similarities to Michael Connelly's famous detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch.

Russell Blake has made an interesting change of tack with this PI series with a character who is really funny in a sad kind of way. One good book doesn't make a successful series but I think the ingredients are there to make me want to follow Black in his further adventures in the unreal world of LA entertainment.

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