New York, 1969, and gumshoe detective, Tim Coates, looks up to see a beautiful young blonde girl, with skin “like roses” standing in his office. That is the start of Brenda Clough’s new novel, Speak to Our Desires and, straight away, you intuit that he is going to fall for this girl, solve the case and catch himself on at least a few thorns on his way down.
Ellie Quartern is the girl in question and she is looking for her mother. It sounds straightforward and you know it won’t be but, if you can cope with some comfortably familiar clichés, then you will be happy to follow on the investigation. At least the moon landing year on the East Coast makes a change from LA in the 30s!
However, there is a twist. While Philip Marlowe just had to cope with guns, booze and corruption, Ellie shares with her mother a supernatural ability to see and exploit people’s deepest desires. It is not the full-blown magical world of, for example, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series but we are not in Kansas anymore.
Being neither fish nor fowl can be a risky path but here I think it pays off. In particular, while things seem to coast a little towards the end of the book, Clough wraps up this sixth act with a brilliant turn that, while not quite a closed ending, pulls the strings and wraps the story up in a masterful way. That wasn’t what I expected and so/ 5 for taking a familiar path and turning an unexpected corner.