Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Norman Klein, No! No! The Woman! (1932)

I may read Norman Klein’s No! No! The Woman a second time, not because I liked it but because I’m still trying to figure out what I just read. I mean, how many vintage hardboiled novels end by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche? I learned of this novel’s existence from a 1932 review in the New York Times. The opening sentence of the review declares that Klein “has aligned himself with the hard-boiled school of mystery writers, and he always calls a spade a spade except when he happens to think of some uglier term for it.” And the review concludes, “In brief, the tale has no moral and no morals.” Sounds promising, right? In the main, the novel is a sloppily plotted whodunit. Its protagonist, Leslie Cobb, returns stateside from Europe after the death of her great-aunt, Sophia Pollard. Cobb soon comes to believe that her aunt was murdered and begins amateur sleuthing. She resembles a hardboiled detective mainly in her irreverent wisecracking. It is easy to spot things that might have been shocking in 1932—though today, a foot fetishist (for example) will doubtless disturb fewer readers. Surprisingly, just when it seems that the narrative belongs entirely to Cobb, a conventional hardboiled detective (name: Lee M. Carnley) appears on the scene. Ultimately, however, the narrative becomes Cobb’s again. This is probably a good thing, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Grade: C+

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