MICHAEL CRAVEN – The Detective & the Pipe Girl. Bourbon Street Books, trade paperback; 1st printing, 2014.

   I’m going to go back a way before I begin. I don’t know the exact year it was, but it has to have been sometime in the early 1970s, soon after my wife and I moved to this house in Connecticut where we’ve lived ever since. The local comic book dealer put on a pulp and paperback convention, and Paul you can tell me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, it was in Wethersfield, the next town over.

   The guest of honor, or one of them — that I don’t remember — was Mike Avallone. Among other things, he was the creator of Ed Noon, the leading protagonist in quite a few private eye novels. During the panel of size one he was on, he was lamenting the “death of the PI novel,” among other matters. In the Q&A session that followed, I had the temerity to point out that there were these new guys in town, a fellow named Spenser and another chap who shall remain Nameless.

   Mike, of course, would hear nothing of it. They’ll soon be gone, was his response, and soon enough, mark my words, he said, nobody will be writing about private eyes any more. I guess you know where this is going. Here it is, nearly 50 years later, and not only are PIs not dead as a genre, they may be more plentiful than ever before. (I may be exaggerating there. Robert B. Parker and Bill Pronzini, each in their own individualistic way, were responsible for a big boom renaissance in the field, starting in the early 70s and continuing on into the 80s and today. You can fill in the names of the other authors who came along on your own, I believe.)

   Mike was wrong, but while I obviously didn’t press him on the point, I felt then as I do now, that much of his complaint was that as good as they were, publishers didn’t want any any more adventures of Ed Noon.

   Forgive the long intro, but this, all of the above, is what came to mind while I was reading The Detective & the Pipe Girl, the first recorded case of a Los Angeles-based PI named John Darville. (Craven has written on earlier book, Body Copy, a PI novel with ex-surfer turned Malibu private detective Donald Tremaine as the leading character.)

   I own a copy of the earlier book, but so far I have somehow managed to not read it. Not yet, that is, based on how much I enjoyed reading this one.

   I’ve been thinking about it, and while I’m sure that every other review that you read of this book will tell you what a “pipe girl” is, I’m not going to. I’ve checked on Google, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the term is Craven’s own invention, and once again I’m going to let him tell you about it when you read this book, and if you’re a PI fan, I hope you will.

   Darville, who tells his story himself, is hired in this book by a famous but now aging film director to locate a girl he had a small affair with before his wife found out. Which he was OK with, he says, but he was able to stay in touch with her until recently. The phone number he has for her is not working, and she is not returning his attempts to talk to her again.

   So, OK, the plot’s not a new one, but Craven has is own voice, or Darville does, in a well-worn but still different wise-ass sort of way, and while we meet many obvious Hollywood types while Darville tries to track the girl down (which he does, and I’ll say no more), we also get a guided tour through all parts of the many neighborhoods that make up the greater Los Angeles area, with many asides as he does so. Since I was there not too long ago, the names of the towns and the streets and his digressive impressions of them were very familiar to me.

   The plot is not without its flaws, and I could include a few of them in this review, but once again I’ve decided not to, except for one, the long overly expository ending, easily excused, I think, in the overall scheme of things. It’s also a happy ending for Darville personally, I’m happy to say, and he concludes the book with a few truths about life, of which the least is the following, but it still resonated with me when I read it for the first time:

    “If you ever find yourself standing outside a crowded restaurant in the hot sun on the weekend waiting to be seated for brunch, it may be time to rethink things.”