By Bill Pronzini
Ah, Bill Pronzini. You were one of my early introductions to pulp mysteries, and I have a lot of left-over affection for you, but I’m afraid I may have outgrown your nameless detective.
I hadn’t read a Bill Pronzini novel in at least 15 years, but I ran across this very short novella in the new releases shelf at the library and picked it up, as I do love a femme fatale! I also had very fond memories of Pronzini’s nameless detective series from high school; they are somewhat run-of-the-mill novels, but are told in first person by a detective who is never named (I was also at the time watching Clint Eastwood’s “The Man with No Name” series, so it was a bit of a theme).
I read Femme in the space of one delayed flight, so probably over 3 hours total, and it was the fluffiest of fluff. I have a bit of a problem with novellas, actually. Whereas authors seem to put extra effort into short stories to be concise and compact as independent entities, novellas have a tendency to just come off as reading like general outlines for a future novel, and this one was no exception.
The plot, characters, and setting were quite generic, which is especially problematic when it comes to a femme fatale. A woman who uses her very femininity to lure men to death and destruction really needs to stand out. This particular femme seemed no different than the average murderess on any given Law & Order episode. I get that it is more difficult to make violence stand out in this modern age, but that’s what makes writing a femme fatale such a challenge.
Now, if you want someone who is up to that challenge:
A Dame To Kill For
By Frank Miller
Frank Miller’s A Dame To Kill For is the basis for the new Sin City movie coming out next year, and coincidentally the only Frank Miller graphic novel that Rebecca owns. I really enjoyed the first Sin City movie and was torn over whether to read the graphic novel for the second one, and thereby “spoil” it for myself, but finally decided that part of the fun of the movie is seeing what a brilliant job it does of bringing to life each individual illustrated panel. (I saw in a “making of Sin City” that they actually used the graphic novel as the original story boards for the movie, which makes a lot of sense, given Frank Miller’s very cinematic style.)
While it is no spoiler that Frank Miller loves a femme fatale (or ten), I’m going to go ahead and spoil this particular book (and upcoming movie), so proceed with caution.
Now, Frank Miller is always pretty over the top, which I do love about him, and this is no exception. The characters are very broadly painted and the violence is extreme, but if you know what you are getting into, he certainly delivers. His femme fatale is also a bit a refreshing break from his usual run of victimized women. Even his recurring violent gang women became that way due to past victimization; Miller’s Dame is no victim (and that’s actually a fairly big spoiler).
My only issue with this book is entirely in my head, but I’m not willing to abandon it. Per Miller’s illustrations, I was convinced that the main protagonist and the titular Dame were both African American, and I was looking forward to the movie even more so because of that. There is a really appalling lack of good action movies staring African Americans, and I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to add at least one more. It turns out the protagonist will be played by Josh Brolin, who is fine, whatever, but is clearly not who I had in my head, and I’m still grumpy about it. I’ve made up for it a little bit by making Rebecca watch Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle in “Devil in a Blue Dress,” which is an excellent noir mystery that everyone should see.