Compared to the tightly convoluted plotting and extensive theorising of Perry Mason novels, the Ed Noon stuff is far more straightforward and action oriented. Mason is very rarely endangered and almost never physically assaulted. His jeopardy always comes from cutting a corner – usually tampering with evidence or manipulating a client – so as to frustrate the police and risk his disbarment for obstructing justice. He doesn’t pull a gun, or have one pulled on him. He’s never sapped on the back of the head, tied up in a basement, or threatened by mob bosses.
That stuff happens all the time to Noon. He’s been knocked cold more times than Amir Khan.
The Mason books also clearly involve the reader in theorising through the case. There are always mid-story scenes of Mason sitting in his office picking at the evidence with his secretary Della Street or his private eye Paul Drake. These scenes are to summarise the evidence for the reader and highlight key components of the puzzle. Agatha Christie does the same thing. Michael Avallone prefer the Sherlock Holmes method of storytelling, in which the detective keeps his cards close to his chest until the big final reveal.
This fourth Noon novel, Violence In Velvet, does not begin with a dame in this office, a violent man bursting in, and then a third unseen character shooting said man dead (you’d be surprised how often that happens in Noon stories). If I remember correctly, there are no corpses in Noon’s office at all, which is a rarity. Instead, Noon is sitting in the bar across from his office when a ten-year old kid – Lucille – comes in and offers to pay her pocket money to hire Noon. She claims her dad wants to kill her mum.
Noon takes the kid back to her parent’s apartment, and stumbles onto mummy’s corpse. She’s been shot in the face with a .45. The shaken kid picks up the gun and fires it at Noon, missing. Then a dame bursts in – the dad’s secretary and mistress – and also pulls a gun.
Now, that probably sounds really odd but believe me as the book progresses this seemingly irrational behaviour from the big dame and little dame starts to make sense. This is a tale in which Daddy is a Broadway star and there’s a love triangle afoot. Having a murder occur live during a baseball game in the third book, Dead Game, it seems Avallone wanted to up the ante by having a murder during a stage performance in Violence In Velvet.
Aside from that, it’s a typical Noon book. It has the usual cheesy dialogue too:
“His name is Noon, Miss Tucker, ” Lucille piped up, obviously enjoying herself immensely. “You know. Like twelve o’clock.”
“Now you know,” I told Helen Tucker. “So dry up or I’ll strike you twelve times.”
There’s the usual action too, of the sort you never get in a Perry Mason. The husband, Guy Prentice, shows up at the murder scene while the police are still there and Noon is in a bad mood – having had two guns fired at him by Lucille and Helen respectively. Prentice is a primadonna and Noon suspects his show of grief is an act. So he needles him.
“You dirty, filthy swine,” he murmured. “Who do you think you are – God?”
“Not God,” I said coldly. “Just a guy who doesn’t go around murdering women.”
It just wasn’t my day. I tried to wriggle off the hook but I couldn’t. And there was more to come.
Because Lucille leaped forward like a little tigress, locked my legs with her wiry, slender arms and sank every tooth that was in her mouth into the fleshy part of my upper thigh. I howled and tried to shake her off, and it took all of my attention off things.
Which cost me. Guy Prentice seemed to bounce off the floor at me like a released spring with a fist at the end of it. I’d never been punched by a famous man before. But speaking for all of the men punched by famous men the world over, mine was a special four-star performance.
His fist whooshed up to my chin, exploded like the A-bomb, and the detonation roared around my skull. I went down into a mushrooming darkness with the sound of the doorbell for musical accompaniment.
Your reaction to that excerpt will tell you if Ed Noon books are for you. I like that type of facetious bumbling high-action style and don’t find it at all low brow. It’s straightforward, without pretence, and doesn’t let fancy language get in the way of telling the story.
If low brow is your thing, you can’t get lower brow than a memoir about a middle-aged man flying budget airlines, staying in cheap AirBnB apartments, and banging young women of questionable chastity. Or you could buy my textbooks to learn how to live the dream yourself. Get ’em here.