Recently I bemoaned the lack of hardboiled detective fiction in the media, and it seems as though someone has answered my whiney prayers by bringing me The Scarlet Coven, a creative approach to this underrated genre which, although not entirely the same, draws on many classic tropes to create a real page turner that I found very hard to put down.
Set in 1930s New York, The Scarlet Coven is a slick take on hardboiled detective fiction as former detective Simon Finch, who has been looking to give up his time as former policeman and freelance ‘Man about Crime’ is pushed back into detection when he is approached by a stranger who tells him he is in terrible danger and arranges a meeting as a desperate plea for help. When the man is found murdered shortly afterwards, Finch explores the seedy underworld of otherworldly cults, mysterious mob bosses and twisted plots to uncover the truth and save the innocent.
As with many hardboiled detective novels, dialogue is crucial, and David Stuart Davies’s novel is no exception, with witty one-liners creating conversation so good it’s (almost) comparable to Raymond Chandler’s seminal work. The one problem I have is the first person narration, which doesn’t seem to match the droll tone of Finch’s conversation; phrases such as ‘gosh’ and ‘Al had the temerity to giggle’ don’t ring true for a man who otherwise speaks like he’s walked straight out of a speakeasy, offering swift rejoinders and receiving them back with the practiced ease of a proper old school PI.
If you need more of a reason to like this reincarnation a hardboiled novel then look no further than my new favourite synonym: ‘like a naïve trout: well and truly hooked’. The writing is slick, and some of the conversations, particularly any involving Finch and anyone in an official capacity, are memorable for their wit and quick delivery.
Fundamentally this is a really solid representation of hardboiled private detective fiction, and whilst Finch still needs some work he has the makings of a great character and I would definitely like to see more of him.