The Kept Girl by Kim Cooper
Author: Kim Cooper
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1929 / Los Angeles / California / Noir / Murder Mystery / Raymond Chandler / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Cult)
Publisher/Publication Date: Esotouric Ink (2/1/2014)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: Oh yeah, I did.
One-sentence summary: Raymond Chandler, his smart secretary-slash-girlfriend, and a beat cop investigate an oil tycoon's involvement with a strange, possibly murderous cult in 1920s Los Angeles.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I adore it. It's reminiscent of classic pulp novels and it's so eye-catching and atmospheric. I want to live in it!
First line: I woke up sour-mouthed in Muriel’s room at the Mayfair to the sound of vacuuming in the hall.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- support this small press endeavor!
Why did I get this book?: I love 1920s LA, I love Chandler, and I love noir-y fiction.
Review: On my bucket list is doing every bus tour offered Esotouric. My wife and I are both obsessed with Los Angeles and its sordid history, and when I saw that the Esotouric's creator had just written a novel about Raymond Chandler, I went it into a swooning fit. Then I read the book, and swooned again.
Set in 1929, the story is told by Raymond Chandler, then an oil company executive, who is tasked with ascertaining how his boss's son lost thousands of dollars, including oil leases, over the years. This is historical Chandler -- an English ex-pat living in LA, melancholic, pipe-smoking, an older wife -- not Chandler by way of his fictional creation, Philip Marlowe. As such, he needs help with his investigation, and calls on his spunky secretary-slash-girlfriend Muriel and a beat cop whose moral compass cost him his promotion, Tom James. But what seems to be a simple case of a couple taken in by hucksters turns out to be more complicated, dangerous, and messier than Chandler and company expected.
By far, Muriel made the story for me, and I wouldn't mind a whole series about her. (In a blog post about the novel's origins, Cooper says that once she had the idea for Muriel, 'everything came alive', and I couldn't agree more!)
Cooper's writing style is wonderful, warm and inviting, and rich with ambiance. I don't think those unfamiliar with the era will be lost, as Cooper includes tidbits that evoke a strong sense of time and place without overwhelming the action. Her articulation of Raymond Chandler is so good -- pathetic and intriguing in equal part, clever and cowardly -- and those who are new to Chandler will enjoy this seedy sort of introduction.
My only critique of this book is that there's a shift in narrative POV early on that I found jarring: the novel starts off with first person POV in Chandler's view point, but quickly drops that to third person POV between Chadler, Muriel, and Tom James. I actually didn't notice it while reading, and it wasn't until I entered in the novel's first sentence did I realize at some point there was a POV shift. I'm glad for it, as I enjoyed being with Muriel as much as I did Chandler!
According to this Kirkus Reviews feature, Cooper is considering a sequel, and like the author of the piece, I too am hoping she'll write one.
In the end, a deeply delicious read. Those who like ripped-from-the-headlines type crime stories will want this one, as well as anyone who enjoys the atmosphere of 1920s LA. Until February 27th, you can enter to win a copy of the book via the author's website!