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It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window. Raymond Chandler

December 5, 2013 21 comments

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski 2006 French title: The Blonde

Just thinking about The Blonde brings a smile on my face. Funny, gripping, crazy, daring, witty are the adjectives that come to mind. It’s full of references to classic noir films and fiction and I’m sure I missed most of the references. The title of the post is the opening quote of the book, putting your reading journey under the protection of the master of literary Noir crime fiction.

Swierczynski_BlondeJack Eisley is sitting at a bar in the Philadelphia Airport. Tomorrow, he has a meeting with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and her lawyer and soon-to-be-next-husband. Jack dreads the meeting and he’s happy to chat innocently with a pretty blonde at the bar. Everything seems alright until she tells him that she put something in his drink and that he’ll die in a few hours. Meanwhile, Mike Kowalski, profession: secret agent for a weird agency, is doing a side job for himself. He’s currently slowly and methodically eliminating all the people responsible for the death of his beloved Katie. He’s about to pull the trigger and score one more enemy when his special phone rings and his contact asks him to go and get the head of a Pr Manchette (*nudge, nudge*) who died in the morning. Kowalski’s employers want to analyse Pr Manchette’s head. In addition, he needs to get a woman called Kelly White who was last seen at the Philadelphia Airport. Back to Jack, who’s now at his hotel room, sick as a dog at the exact time the blonde had predicted he would be as a result of the poisining. He starts believing she did spice his drink with a lethal weapon. He rushes back to the airport to find her and put his hand on the antidote.

As it is, both Kowalski and Jack are after the same woman, Kelly White. They embark in a fast paced trip across Philadelphia at night and the reader takes a seat aboard an UFO of a book. Jack soon finds out that Kelly White has a virus which doesn’t bear privacy, loneliness or solitude. If she’s farther than three meters from another human, she dies within 3 minutes. Isn’t that idea fantastic? It provides countless possibilities of comical scenes in a novel. Imagine living a daily life with this when the others around you don’t know it. You’re constantly invading other people’s space, you can’t pee on your own and you act suspiciously promiscuous. The horror.

The intrigue is made of this incredible scenario of futurist science whipped with international terrorism. This icing on the cake is the personal Vengeance carried on by Kowalski. All this works extremely well. Duane Swierczynski manages to write a coherent and yet totally wacked story. Mike could have a penguin as a teammate and the reader would accept is a fact. He’s that good! The ending is surrealist and yet totally logical. The style is full of catchy dialogues, urgent descriptions and striking imagery. Here are Jack and the blonde during their first encounter:

Blonde

You’re looking for something unwinding and well-written? A book to take you away during a journey on a train? The Blonde is for you. What about me? I loved this book and I already have Fun and Games waiting for me. As often, I owe the discovery of this writer to Guy’s impeccable tastes in literature. Thanks again, Guy.

PS: For readers who can read Spanish or French, I recommend Carlos Salem. He’s Swierczynski’s European evil brother.

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