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This is Not a Flophouse

This is Not a Flophouse - K.I. Hope Full disclosure: Yeah, I know the author, and yeah, she is very cool. That said, I still think I can write an objective review of this book. StyleFirst of all, I love noir when it’s done well, and it’s done well here. The Maltese Falcon is one of my favorite movies, so I was charmed by (This is Not a) Flophouse from the get-go. There are tough-talking detectives, alcoholic beat cops, world-weary prostitutes, a Senator with a secret and his lush wife, for starters. The whole story is about corruption in the city… some poor schlump is pinned with a murder he didn’t commit; government agencies are plying illegal narcotics; and totalitarianism crouches in the shadows, much as it did in Casablanca. Indeed, the subject matter is so perfect for the genre, there’s a certain tragedy to the fact that this book wasn’t written 75 years earlier. There must be a perfect universe out there somewhere, with a film adaptation of Flophouse where Humphrey Bogart plays Maslow, Lauren Bacall plays Mary, and Veronica Lake plays Jane. (what do you think, K.I.? Jimmy Stewart as Old Jameson? Sydney Greenstreet as Joe? Some young Betty Page-type as Dorothy? That’s how I imagine it.) I'm going a bit overboard here; there are expletives and sex you wouldn’t find in a Production Code-era film. There’s also DNA evidence, Vietnam vets, HIV and a few other anachronisms, but overall this novel is so thoroughly 40’s pulp fiction, I actually imagined it in black-and-white, with the men in fedoras and the women in pin curls. To be sure, there are a ton of outrageously melodramatic lines in this book. e.g.- ”…if you only believe in the Devil, how can you be saved?” Some people are bound to give Ms Hope shit for that. Those would be the people who don’t get that this is noir, and nobody in noir talks like people do in real life… but that’s part of the ambiance which makes those movies so appealing. If Bogart and Bacall ring your bell©, you need to pick this novel up! SubstanceSo if Flophouse followed the classic formula, the villain would be a small-time crime boss, or a police chief on the take. That isn't the case. This novel is more modern in its sensibilities. It isn't a nostalgic tribute to Robert Siodmak, it's commentary on the present-day world. If we had a bolder, more independent press, storylines from this book could be right out of today’s headlines. Without spoiling or deconstructing too much, let me briefly list some items from the Flophouse pages that struck me as germane to 2010:✓law enforcement less interested in solving crimes than in producing prosecutable bodies to satisfy public outrage at crimes ✓corporate personhood, and the rollback of campaign finance restrictions (see Unequal Protection)✓a government active in the narcotics trade (see Dope Inc.: The Book That Drove Henry Kissinger Crazy)✓terrorism being trumped up to maintain an atmosphere of fear, for political purposes (pp.83-85)✓the CIA drugging unwitting private citizens (p.92)These are all issues near and dear to my heart. Be truthful, Ms.Hope: did you write this book for me? :)So it seems Flophouse isn’t over-the-top at all. It’s the evening news. It's the world going on outside our doors; the world I'm going to walk back out into tomorrow morning when I leave my home and drive to work. This book wasn't written to comfort you. The ending certainly won't comfort anybody. Noir means “black”.