Eccentric mystery ‘Infinite Blacktop’ spans 25 years and three cases
An existentially weary PI confronts three major cases that may be related in Sara Gran’s “The Infinite Blacktop,” a fragmented take on the hard-boiled mystery genre.
She wasn’t supposed to walk away from the accident, but somehow, intrepid PI Claire DeWitt survives, because, as she tells herself, she is the best detective in the world. In fact, in her whole career, there is only one mystery that she hasn’t been able to solve, other than how to live an emotionally balanced and financially successful life — the disappearance of one of her best friends when they were teenagers. So as Claire sets out to discover who is trying to kill her, the novel also cuts to this past disappearance and to one of Claire’s biggest cases in between. The latter, a murder investigation that she had to solve in order to earn her California PI license, becomes in many ways the core of the novel; the tendrils of mystery, motive and investigation spread out across 25 years as the cases begin to converge. The quick movement from time period to time period, coupled with Claire’s intellectual and sometimes depressive musings, makes the novel slow to start, but there’s a fascinating echo in these pages of classic LA noir detective fiction from the age of Hammett and Chandler. Like Sam Spade and his ilk, Claire is jaded, but she’s driven by “the only thing that was real, (which) was solving that mystery and if I got hurt or if I got lost or if I died — no matter what came in my way and no matter who came in my way I was going to solve it.” And in seeking truth, she discovers faith, no matter how slim and how fragile, in her own existence.
Give it a bit of time to wind up and you’ll be charmed by this eccentric, enticingly artful mystery.
(Gran will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Return to Middleearth
Christopher Tolkien presents “The Fall of Gondolin,” the final piece in a trilogy of Middle-earth stories his father, J.R.R. Tolkien, did not live to see published.
In what he assures us is the last installment, Tolkien returns to edit his father’s work, this time with the tale of the secret city of Gondolin. Ulmo, the great sea god, visits a wanderer named Tuor and tells him his destiny: “O Tuor of the lonely heart, I will not that thou dwell for ever in fair places of birds and flowers. … Now must thou seek through the lands for the city of the folk called Gondothlim or the dwellers in stone, and the Noldoli shall escort thee thither in secret for fear of the spies of Melko.” Tuor makes it to Gondolin, where he marries the king’s daughter and has a son, Eärendel. Meanwhile, the evil Melko, whom Ulmo was so worried about, is scheming to find the hidden city and destroy it. When the city’s location is given up in “the most infamous treachery in the history of Middle-earth,” a great battle ensues, and despite Tuor’s valor, Gondolin falls. The history of Middle-earth is so intricately detailed and fully imagined, readers are lucky indeed that Christopher Tolkien is such an excellent editor. With a The Austin AmericanStatesman has teamed with Kirkus Reviews to bring you select reviews from one of the most trusted and authoritative voices in book discovery. For more reviews from Kirkus, visit kirkusreviews.com. full glossary, additional notes, a family tree and a list of names with descriptions, it is easy to keep track of who is whose son (“Lord of the Rings” fans will be pleased to note that Eärendel is Elrond’s father) and which races of elves and orcs and goblins are which and live where. Tolkien also takes great care to explain where each version of the story comes from and pieces together its evolution, giving much-needed context. All this makes it easy to enjoy the tale itself, which is beautifully written, with lyrical descriptions of Ulmo, Gondolin and even the dragons and Balrogs that devastate the city. Even the battle sequences are somehow lovely. The tone here is more like a fairy tale than the main “Ring” cycle, which is perfectly suited to its shorter length.
This gorgeous novel is a must for more than just Tolkien fanatics.
“The Fall of Gondolin” by J.R.R. Tolkien