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The Big Drugstore
By Patrick Irelan
Ice Cube Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
In a way, pastiches can be a lot of fun, books that are specifically and deliberately designed to be a ripoff of a particular type of literary genre, which instead of a ripoff is known as a "loving homage" to that genre by its fans; but I always find the same problem with pastiches of hardboiled detective novels (and there are a lot of pastiches of hardboiled detective novels by now), which is that in order for one to work in a contemporary setting, the main character always comes off like some cartoonish anachronism, a "seedy private eye" who nonetheless has the kind of oak-paneled, antique-filled office that in the 2010s would be marketed as a vintage loft and sold for millions to creative-classers, and who never owns a cellphone and still gets all his information from paper newspapers, and who walks around talking like a wiseguy within a world of LOLcats and emoticons. And so too is the case with Patrick Irelan's The Big Drugstore, which is kind of a shame, because instead of an actual rat-a-tat crime novel I think he means it to be, it comes across more like a comedy about a guy who reads way too many rat-a-tat crime novels, even though I have to say that I really loved the central premise of the story, that our hero is a security guard at a Walgreens-type convenience store, who takes it upon himself to go into Philip Marlowe mode when the store's manager is murdered for unknown reasons right in his office under the guard's watch. (Also, I cracked up every time I spied on the back cover the reference to the "gritty and rough" streets of Davenport, Iowa, one of the many details that makes it hard to tell if the publisher is presenting this straightforwardly or with tongue in cheek.) Let's be clear, it's not a bad book at all, and fans of hardboiled pastiches should definitely pick it up; but it's pretty damn silly too, and fans of sincere contemporary crime dramas deserve to know this before buying a copy. It comes with a limited recommendation today, just to those people.
Out of 10: 7.4, or 8.4 for fans of hardboiled detective homages