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Book Review : Will Viharo - Hard-Boiled Heart (2015)


I wear my heart on my sleeve, like a broken cufflink. I'm glad it's there. It reminds me I'm still alive. At least parts of me are, however damaged. Nobody dies all at once, see. People die in pieces, one body part, one slice of soul, one fragment of a shattered heart at the time.

If I had one piece of advice to help my teenage self have a healthier sex life it would've been: learn what kind of man you are. If you don't know why people should sex you up, you're not going to offer something very interesting to another human being. It's the same thing with writing: if you don't know why people should read you instead of someone else, there's a great chance your novel will reflect that. Do you know who figured it all out? Seattle-based hardboiled mystery author Will Viharo, that's who. His latest novel Hard-Boiled Heart is a satisfying, provocative and anachronistic heartbreaker that literally read itself.

So, Hard-Boiled Heart is the latest volume in the Vic Valentine series. If you're not familiar with him, he's an old school PI living in contemporary California. His latest reason to live is Charlie, a Hollywood actor who wants to turn Vic's timeless and reckless existence into a movie. Their plans are derailed one night at the burlesque bar when Sofia Starfire is murdered. Charlie spent the night fantasizing about her only to stumble upon her fresh corpse and end up the principal suspect of the investigation. Seeing an opportunity to bolster his profile with Charlie and maybe make a little dough, Vic Valentine takes the case. Only him can get to the truth in the twisted and deceitful world of burlesque dancing.

Let me ask you a question: are you a fan of Raymond Chandler? If you're currently reading this review, the answer probably is: yes, to some degree. Will Viharo has to be the most Chandleresque author I know that's not actively trying to rip off the legend's style or paradigm in his fiction. Viharo's narrative voice is thunderous and commanding. It gave me a clear and powerful vision of who Vic Valentine is right from the first page: a constantly heartbroken eccentric who loves to use sex to avoid his own existential dread. He is manic, charming, witty, hopeless and had a sense of humor that would blow the panties off everyone within a five miles radius, male or female. Point is: Vic Valentine is a fascinating guy and it'll take him about three sentences to convince you of that fact.

"I'm no killer, Vic," Charlie said. "I just play one in the movies."

"And I'm not really a private detective. I just play one in real life. C'mon."

Now, some aspects of Hard-Boiled Heart might turn some of you off, especially in this era where the gender politics majors will break anything into pieces in Salon or whatever trendy hub for think pieces. I am aware that the fact that I am a white man could've contributed to my enjoyment of Hard-Boiled Heart, but hear me out. Vic Valentine's heartbreak stems from his inability to reconcile his lust for the burlesque characters interpreted by all these voluptuous women he likes to spend time being intimate with and the ambitious and conniving people hiding behind the curves and the glitter, who constantly use him. There is something profoundly human and vulnerable about Vic Valentine. He's a man who earnestly believe in his own Hollywood ending and that's how I think he's so goddamn relatable. 

Hard-Boiled Heart was swift, fast-flowing and full of surprises. It's a detective novel that could've been written at any year in the post-WWII era. I've read it in two or three furious sittings over forty-eight hours because it's smooth, intriguing and features an engaging character. It's a very precise thing. If you're not into Raymond Chandler or if you still can't forgive him the bad contemporary pastiches, it's unlikely you'll get into actually great Chandler-inspired fiction. It would be a damn shame, though because Hard-Boiled Heartis a flat out great detective novel Will Viharo understands very well who he is as a writer and Vic Valentine is the real deal. One of the best kept secrets in contemporary hardboiled fiction.


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