RARA-AVIS: Some thoughts on Oliver Bleek's THE BRASS GO-BETWEEN

From: Max Gilbert ( jmaxgilbert@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Feb 2005

Well, it's February so I picked up a Bleek novel, and I'm glad I did. I hadn't read any Ross Thomas before, having always associated him with political thriller (a genre that's not among my favorites), but this Bleek novel (and I believe the others as well) is really a PI story. Bleek's hero Phillip St. Ives doesn't call himself a PI, but that's what he is, one that specializes in acting as a go-between for people interested in recovering stolen art, kidnapped family members, etc.

The character, who narrates, reminds me of Lew Archer-they're both erudite, have a superior attitude towards most of those they encounter and an ironic sense of humor that accompanies it, and they seem to share certain liberal views about society and politics. The plot, without giving much away, is also rather circular in the way that someone (I'm sorry I forgot who) mentioned McDonald's plots are. St. Ives is a good character, and while he fits the mold of the classic, lone PI he's also certainly human and generally likable. He fails in his attempts to bed the good-looking dame (who may or may not be treacherous) and he fails to judge the motives of others. He also has some friends or at least acquaintances that he plays poker with.

(Possible spoilers in the next paragraph) One thing that really struck, at first, with this book was the apparent optimism or perhaps naivete about the individual's ability to deal with the problems of the world or even chose the right side. I read Westlake/Stark's THE BLACK ICE SCORE a couple weeks ago (which was published in 1968, the year before this novel) and which has a similar set-up. IN that novel, Parker uncharacteristically (although admittedly because his girlfriend prompts him to) gets involved in a political set-up, helping plan a robbery for a group of Africans who want to steal back diamonds that their country's leader had bought with money taken from the country. It's clear in Stark's novel that Parker is siding with the "right" people in this brewing African conflict. In the BRASS GO-BETWEEN, the set-up seems similar, with St. Ives deciding to help one faction in an African civil war recover a valuable art object that also has great symbolic importance. Having also recently seen HOTEL RWANDA (a great movie BTW) I thought that optimism in siding with one faction in a civil war was a good thing, considering how contemporary cynicism about Africa has led the West to ignore such conflicts. However, the end of BRASS GO-BETWEEN makes it clear that cynicism was the correct response all along, and in not being cynical enough St. Ives screws himself over (he doesn't get his money) and fails in his attempt to help the starving children of this fictitious African nation. While the cynicism is probably more in keeping with the hard-boiled tradition than the optimism I saw in THE BLACK ICE SCORE I'm not sure, at another level, if isn't the source of other problems in the world.

(Current reading Willeford's THE BLACK MASS OF BROTHER SPRINGER--this is the last of Willeford's novels for me to read, since I won't bother with the Western, and it's eluded me for a while. So I put out the $18 for the new pb reprint from WitSend. As expected, it's great.)


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 06 Feb 2005 EST