Cicero’s Dead by Patrick H. Moore is hard-boiled Noir at its finest. The book introduces private investigator Nick Crane, who’s investigating the death of drug kingpin Cicero, a victim of a hit and run. His vixen-like daughter, Jade is searching for her brother, Richard, who’s now missing. The case leads Nick Crane to the bowels of crimeridden Los Angeles and face to face with outlaw biker gangs, Hollywood cast-offs, seamy lawyers, and a host of other offbeat characters from L.A’s underbelly.
A Noir thriller needs to have a solid protagonist, and Nick Crane is a very fine addition to the canon. Though he’s heavily reminiscent of Marlowe and the greats, this is actually a testament to Patrick Moore’s writing: Nick Crane is an incredibly strong character with a vivid narrative voice. A nice touch is giving Nick Crane a punk rock wife and adopted daughter, bringing Crane into the modern age, while still sounding like a forties-era private dick. The plot is complicated as a Noir should be as well, and reaches a satisfying conclusion. Not Big Sleep-complicated, because Moore is firmly in control of his narrative and his characters throughout the novel.
Setting is enormously well-established as well. As someone raised in L.A., Moore is great at getting down L.A.’s ugliness and weird mystery. There’s a reason Noir so often takes place in Los Angeles. L.A. is at once more glamorous than anywhere else, and more down and out. Moore perfectly captures this juxtaposition, matching the narrative force of the greats of crime fiction.
The main criticism about this book is that some of the characters may be colorful to a fault. Everyone talks like they’re speaking hard-boiled prose. This is highly entertaining, but realistic? Not so much. When a guy puffing on a bong talks like he’s speaking Chandler-esque prose, then you realize this book exists in a universe all its own. I only wish a stoned out-of-work actor was this colorful in real life. So while the book is about down-and-out characters, everyone’s so sharp and entertaining that at times it takes away some of the grim reality, because the universe of the book isn’t really grim at all: Everyone’s fantastically colorful. The book might have been better served having some of that local color expressed by Nick Crane rather than everyone he meets.
Once you suspend disbelief and read Cicero’s Dead more as a larger-than-life crime story than a true-to-life story it’s incredibly fast-moving and entertaining; even poetic. Patrick H. Moore is a master of pacing and description. You won’t really want to put this book down once you get started. Regardless of some issues with dialog, what’s on the page is extraordinarily well-written and well-paced. Characters may be more entertaining than they are in real life, but they’re plenty entertaining.
All in all, Cicero’s Dead is an excellent addition to the library of L.A. Noir. With the book Patrick H. Moore introduces a classic Noir protagonist and launches himself as a major crime writer to watch.