Book Diary: Max Phillips – Fade to Blonde

Fade To Blonde (Hard Case Crime) by Max…The wonderfully lurid cover would give away that we are dealing with a pulp novel here even if the equally wonderful title hadn’t already yelled it at us very loudly and clearly. Fade to Blonde makes no attempt to hide that it’s inspired by noir fiction, so much that one has to check the back cover or the editorial matter to make sure that it was not actually released in the 1950s but was written in the 21st century by someone who obviously loves the genre. The reader, then, comes with certain expectations to the novel, and Max Phillips definitely delivers: The protagonist and first person narrator of Fade to Blonde is a writer who is down on his luck and, as we soon learn, has some serious aggression management issues. The novel wastes no time, and so it takes only a few pages until said protagonist encounters the blonde of the title and has been hired by her to help out with a problem – which happens to be a gangster who has been threatening her. From there on, things continue pretty much as any noir aficionado would expect; the plot gathers momentum very fast and then moves along at breakneck speed and very smoothly – in fact, even a bit too smoothly. While pulp novels are not famed for their depth or originality, one would expect from a homage like this to throw in at least the occasional unsuspected plot twist. There are indeed quite a few twists and turns in Fade to Blonde, but the problem with those is that they are just the kinds of twist one would expect and which one sees coming from miles away. Which is a pity; if Max Phillips had taken a few more liberties with genre conventions, Fade to Blonde might have been an even better novel – but even so it is a compelling read in the noir pulp tradition, with questionable heroes, ruthless gangsters and shady dames, and it definitely qualifies as a pageturner.

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