This story starts out very similar to one of the Laura Lippman books about Private Investigator Tess Monaghue. A client comes in pretending to be someone else, in order to investigate something else than the stated purpose of the visit. [Librarians will also recognize this trope in its library-patron form: “I’m looking for a certain book by a certain author, however I don’t know the name of the book, nor the name of the author…” To which the librarian is forced to respond, “Is the book bigger than a breadbox?”] So this plot isn’t very original and in fact is one close to de rigueur for noir mysteries. I have to admit I don’t even like noir mysteries. But Mosley is such a darn good writer I can’t resist his books anyway.
A woman claiming to be Chrystal Chambers-Tyler asks McGill to investigate her husband, billionaire Cyril Tyler. Tyler’s first two wives died under mysterious circumstances, and Chambers-Tyler is getting a bit worried. McGill figures out who his client really is, gets into some near-death scrapes, and helps resolve the real issues that triggered the visit in the first place.
But the real emphasis in this book isn’t on the mystery at all. Rather, it is on fathers and sons – McGill and his Communist father, and McGill and his stepsons. And it’s about a man, who, at the age of fifty, finally figures out what he wants to do with his life.
Mosley’s reputation as a literary artist who happens to write mysteries is substantiated in this book by little flights of transcendent prose such as this, when McGill is thinking about how good it is to be on his own at three in the afternoon…
“…when most other workers are sitting in cubicles, dreaming of retirement, praying for Saturday, or finding themselves crammed-in down underground on subway cars, hurtling toward destinations they never bargained for.”
Or this, when he was watching a woman cook breakfast for him:
“‘What?’ she asked when I smiled at my flittery, yellow butterfly of a heart.”
Or the words from a witness, that inadvertently cause McGill to have an epiphany about what drove his father:
“I gave my children the kind of dreams they could live by, but dreams are like oceans, Mr. McGill. If they’re worth a damn they’re bigger than the dreamer, and sometimes, when the one dreaming wants to be as big as what they imagine, the wave pulls ‘em down.”
In this book, the meditations of the protagonist are mostly turned inward rather than focusing on the world outside himself. Thus it is a bit more melancholy than Mosley’s usual fare, but this introspection also lends more literary notes to the story.
Evaluation: When the Thrill is Gone is the third book in the Leonid McGill detective series, but can be read as a standalone book. If you like noir mysteries, you will like this solid contribution to that genre. If you appreciate lyric prose, you will value this book even if you don’t like noir mysteries. Walter Mosley is an author who can and should be savored on a number of levels.
Published by NAL, 2012