In the early part of the twentieth century in the United States mass entertainment was still limited to what could be broadcast over the radio or published in magazines that could be sold throughout the country. Magazines ranged from the Benjamin Franklin-founded Saturday Evening Post, with its sentimentalized vision of American life personified by the Norman Rockwell pictures that adorned its covers, to the down and dirty world of pulp magazines with their sensationalist and lurid stories of crime, passion, and violence.
Of the two it should come as no surprise that the pulp magazines were the breeding ground for some rather remarkable writers. Without these erstwhile purveyors of filth and scandal, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, and Robert E. Howard may well have never had the opportunity to even begin their careers as writers, let alone created the works and characters they have become famous for. Conan The Barbarian from Howard, Phillip Marlow from Chandler, I Robot from Asimov, and The Martian Chronicles from Bradbury are only a few of the works and characters that the literary world owes these magazines a debt of thanks to.
It was on these pages that genres we now take for granted like science fiction and fantasy, detective fiction, and romance novels all had their humble beginnings. While the literary magazines like The Paris Review were trumpeting the avant-garde for a select audience, the pulp magazine was heralding the creation of the inexpensive paperback novel and the concept of popular fiction.
Today the inheritors of these early authors are plentiful, as the crowded mystery and science fiction/fantasy shelves of any bookstore can attest. While some authors have managed to create their own voice within this framework, far too many seem like pale imitations of the originals. How many ways for instance can you recreate the private investigator role created by Raymond Chandler before it just starts to get trite? There are just only so many ways some pies can be cut before the slices are so thin as to be non-existent.
Under these circumstances you have to give author Corey Fayman marks for effort with his novel Black's Beach Shuffle. He has made a genuine attempt at bringing something new to the private investigator novel with the creation of the character Rolly Waters and a plot involving the high tech industry. But in the end it still feels like nothing more than someone trying to update a Raymond Chandler story.
Rolly Waters is a part-time Blues guitar player haunted by what might have been and how he had blown it with booze and one deadly car crash. Being arrested for driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter on the very day he had been given a blank check by Capital Records, and the fact that it was his band mate who died in the crash, destroyed his dreams, and his desire. He drifted into private investigator work because his community service (record searches for his lawyer in a library for three years) gave him the 3,000 hours living in the State of California required to get a licence and he couldn't imagine ever working for someone else.
The majority of his work has been gathering evidence for divorce cases or tracing down kids who had run away from home, nothing glamorous or heroic but enough to pay the rent. It sure didn't qualify him for the job that an old school friend dropped in his lap one fine morning. Some new high tech business found that an essential component of their new software programme that was to be their path to fortune had gone missing and they needed it to be found.
Of course it's not good to have preconceived prejudices about an employer whose offering you a blank check and stock options that could be worth a fortune, but Rolly can't help it. The night before being hired he and his band had played at a house party for the very same business and returning to retrieve a forgotten guitar he had found a body in the pool he had been strumming his guitar beside a few hours earlier.
When the body shows up a day or two later at the bottom of the cliff behind the house on the beach beside the ocean, he figures there might be some connection between the corpse and the missing component, especially when he finds out the cadaver had been the programmer responsible for software. One things leads to another, including an interlude with the de rigour femme fatale, until he stumbles upon the answer to who done it and along the way uncovers corporate scandals and stock swindles that are the stock and trade of dot.com companies.
Although Fayman has done a competent job in telling the story, and making the character of Rolly Waters more then one-dimensional, there is nothing new under the sun here at all. Having Rolly think of the case, and his life to some extent, in musical terms might have seemed like a good idea while writing the book, but unfortunately its not enough of a diversion to hide the fact that this just another pale imitation of the original.
Although Black's Beach Shuffle is an enjoyable enough read, there's also nothing really special about it to suggest you should run right out and buy it. It's like fast food for the brain, easy to read, sort of tastes like it should, but lacks the substance of the real thing. If I were you I'd just re-read The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon and enjoy a real meal.