A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

LEIGH BRACKETT – No Good from a Corpse. Coward McCann, hardcover, 1944. Dennis McMillan, hardcover, 1998 [includes eight detective pulp stories plus title novel]. Reprint paperbacks: Handi-Book #32, 1944; Collier, 1964.

LEIGH BRACKETT No Good from a Corpse

   Leigh Brackett is perhaps best known for her science fiction and for her script work on the classic private-eye film The Big Sleep (1946); but she also wrote excellent crime fiction (and one very good historical western). Her mysteries tend to be tough-minded and realistic. No Good from a Corpse, in fact, can accurately be termed “hard-boiled” — and indeed has been called, by some critics and aficionados, the best traditional private-eye novel written by a woman.

   Los Angeles detective Edmond Clive embarks on an angry, vengeful hunt when an old girlfriend, nightclub singer Laurel Dane, is murdered. His quest leads him from Beverly Hills mansions to cheap night spots along the Sunset Strip; from rich playboys (and playgirls) to denizens of the underworld; from threatening telephone calls to a knock on the head to attempts on his fife; and from blackmail to several more murders before he finally uncovers the not altogether surprising identity of Laurel’s murderer and the truth behind a web of lies and half truths.

LEIGH BRACKETT No Good from a Corpse

   Critic Anthony Boucher stated in an introduction to a reissue of this novel in 1964 that Bracken was the one woman who “most successfully captured the authentic Chandleresque male tone.” True enough; the tone is very Chandleresque, to the point of pastiche. It is as if Miss Brackett deliberately set out to out-Chandler Chandler.

   About the novel itself, Boucher wrote, “Its ingredients are not startlingly new: it even includes the obligatory night clubs, in which detective-story characters spend so much more time than any other class of people. But the familiar ingredients take on fresh life, partly because Miss Brackett looks at and writes about Los Angeles itself and not its conventionalized fiction image.”

   Also true, pro and con. There is nothing really new in the novel; Brackett covers old ground- and covers it well, even expertly, but the fact remains that Chandler did it first and did it better. Clive is the only memorable character,and he pales alongside Philip Marlowe. With all due respect to Boucher and the book’s other boosters, No Good from a Corpse is not the best traditional male private-eye novel written by a woman. That distinction belongs to Dolores Hitchens’s Sleep with Slander (reviewed here ).

   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.