Razzmatazz, by Christopher Moore, published by Harper Collins, returns us to the world of San Francisco in the years immediately following World War Two. All the characters, well most of them anyway as some of didn’t make it out of that story alive, from Noir make a triumphant return. Like its predecessor Razzmatazz sounds like its talking out of the side of its mouth with a toothpick permanently stuck to its lower lip.
However, again like Noir, in this novel Moore’s characters are on the margins of acceptable society. In the 1940s prejudice against Asians, especially Chinese, African Americans, and the LGBTQ+ community is not only the norm, but pretty close to acceptable. (As a side note Moore wrote this book during the pandemic when anti-Asian bigotry was once again rearing its ugly head) The fact our hero and his girl friend are comfortable hanging out in those communities, in fact they have friends in each, usually puts them in opposition to the forces of all that’s good and righteous.
Sammy ‘Two Toes’ Tiffin and his paramour Stilton (aka The Cheese) work crap jobs – he’s a bartender in a dive bar and she waits tables at a diner – yet they somehow end up working as private investigators. In Razzmatazz they are drawn into two cases. One has the two of them trying to figure out who is bumping off members of the city’s lesbian community.
While Sammy and The Cheese are hired on by a friend who runs one of the lesbian bars to try and solve the case, he is also brought in by a friend of his in the Chinese community to help track down an artifact. His friend’s grandfather had stolen it from one of the triads back when he had first come over to the US and now must find and return it.
While Moore writes in his usual casual and irreverent manner, he also manages to impart some history that most people have forgotten or don’t want to know. He describes how the discriminatory immigration laws at the time – Chinese people could only come into the country if they had a male relative who was born in the US – allowed the triads to create a class of indentured servants to work for them.
Through the creation of false papers they would turn someone into a ‘paper son’ – the child or nephew of a natural born American – and then make that person work for them until they paid off their debt. The grandfather of Sammy’s friend was one of these paper sons, and his story is an integral part of the greater book.
Even with his trade mark humour firmly in place Moore manages to tell this character’s story in such a way we learn about the lives Chinese immigrants lived at the turn of the century. We also see where the ingrained racism that fostered the recent outbreaks of anti Asian hate were born.
Of course Moore also has a great deal of fun with language and conventions of the ‘Noir’ genre. It seems like every one of the characters regardless of age, sex, or race sound like they walked off the set of any number of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett film adaptations.
While it comes close to being a little over the top on occasion, Moore always manages to reign it in just enough to keep it amusing. Not once do you find yourself thinking the joke is wearing thin or becoming bored with the action.
For this an action packed story. With the characters trying to crack two cases and deal with, some quite frankly, very weird stuff, you won’t have a chance to be bored. Hollywood only wishes it could come up with this kind of great mystery story filled with humour and excitement.
With Razzmatazz Christopher Moore has written another homage to noir that will leave you chortling with glee. However, he doesn’t ignore the darker side of the times he’s depicting and makes sure readers realize what’s swimming beneath the light hearted surface.