ERNEST LARSEN – Not a Through Street. Grove Press, paperback; 1st “Black Cat” printing, 1986. First published in hardcover by Random House, 1981.

   Something I didn’t know: Grove Press once published a private eye novel. (And perhaps others?) Something else I didn’t know (or didn’t remember): this book was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Mystery in 1982. Larsen must have taken the award and run. He (as far as I know) never published another mystery or crime novel, even though this one ends with Emma Hobart, an ex-radical cab driver, nicely set up as a semi-legal, unofficial, street level PI.

   And that’s what in essence she is throughout this book as well, except that her only client is herself, and her boy friend, who is seriously involved in an “accident” concerning her taxi and two men who desperately want the film in his camera.

   It starts slowly. The first two chapters are spent with two people sorting out their feelings for each other, obviously in love but not able to say it to each other at the right time. The blurb on the cover of the paperback edition calls this an invasion of “Chandler territory,” but as far as this beginning is concerned, I have a strong feeling that collectors of the complete works of Raymond Chandler would not care for it at all.

   This is “hippie country,” no doubt about it, a leftover from the 60s, with dialogue that every so often sounds like psychological/philosophical jargon — sorry, I can’t tell which — and there is a definite haze of psychedelia clinging to the rest of the story, which is all about some dastardly corporation plot that was cooked up during the war in Vietnam. It’s no wonder that Grove Press decided it was their cup of tea.

   Originally published by Random House in hardcover, this book may prove to be hard to find. If you ever spot a copy, though, it’s worth picking up. The plot is a relatively shallow one, but Emma is a tough lady, and even though this particular adventure takes a lot out of her, it’s a shame there wasn’t ever another one.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990 (somewhat revised).

[UPDATE]   It is a correct statement that this was the only work of crime fiction written by Ernest Larsen. I do not know if it is the same Ernest Larsen, but he may also be the author of a well-regarded work of non-fiction covering the movie The Usual Suspects in considerable detail (BFI, 2002).