Fri 18 Oct 2013
by Robert J. Randisi
JONATHAN VALIN – Natural Causes. Congdon & Weed, hardcover, 1983. Avon, paperback, 1984. Dell, paperback, 1994.
Since the appearance of his Harry Stoner novel, The Lime Pit (1980), Jonathan Valin has been hailed as among the best of the present-day private-eye writers. Of the first Stoner adventure, Publishers Weekly said, “Wow! One of the roughest, toughest and most completely convincing private eye novels in a long time.”
Other critics have praised Valin as the second coming of Chandler. That may not be fair, since Valin is a good writer and storyteller in his own right, and Stoner, a PI who works out of Cincinnati is a fully individuated character.
In this, the fifth Stoner novel, the PI is hired by American Productions to go to California and find out who killed the head writer of their biggest soap opera, on Quentin Dover. In describing Stoner’s investigation. Valin also vividly depicts the world of a big-time soap opera — of which he knows much. He spent a year as a story consultant on a popular daytime soap.
Stoner runs the gamut of Hollywood personae: directors, actors, agents, not to mention the victim’s beautiful alcoholic wife. Add drugs and murder and a jaunt south of the border, and you’ve got the story of how and why a man with a half-a-million-dollar-a-year job would get himself involved with something that could — and did — get him killed.
Valin may indeed be one of the best of the present PI writers, but to compare him to Chandler is to do a disservice — one that critics all too frequently perform.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
Editorial Comment: My review of The Lime Pit, Valin’s first Stoner novel, can be found here. I also reviewed Final Notice, the second book in the series here, a post that also includes some comments about the author and a complete bibliography.