When I started reading the first book in Russell Blake’s detective series, Black, I was frankly not much impressed. The main character and his situation seemed hackneyed and glib. But I gave it a chance, and soon decided that there’s a whole lot more going on with these books than was initially apparent, and now I’m a fan.
Artemus Black (he tries to avoid his first name) is a low rent PI in the stereotypical shabby Los Angeles office. He has an office assistant, Roxie, a hot goth chick with superior research and hacking skills, who is reliably insolent to him. He also has an obese, rescued “office cat,” who hates him. He’s seeing a psychologist to help him work through his anger issues – anger at his hippie parents who, although stoned most of the time, keep turning their arts and crafts into wildly profitable businesses, and at his ex-wife who, back when he was a rock musician, recorded an album of songs he wrote and then left him to become an international star, taking all the song rights with her. He drives a classic Cadillac El Dorado convertible, and wears 1940s suits and fedoras. He drinks too much and is trying to quit smoking.
The first book is simply called Black, and involves Black being hired by an aging action movie star with a particular hatred for the paparazzi. Now paparazzi are getting murdered wherever the star goes, and suspicion is being directed at him.
The second book, Black is Back, deals with murder in the rap music scene.
What’s best about the Black books is the characters and the dialogue. Black’s arguments with Roxie are masterpieces of emotional manipulation and veiled sexual tension. His dialogues with his cop friend, Stan Colt, are just hilarious guy talk – cross-chat that’s never been done better in print.
There are some surprisingly beautiful descriptive passages. Russell Blake is an excellent writer. Also some moments when Black exhibits some pretty solid moral sense.
Highly recommended. Cautions for violence, language, and adult stuff, but not really very heavy.