“It’s an aesthetic.”
This fragment of an interaction lays out the first of Ford’s noir influences, an Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake casualness in sarcastic banter. It folds into more Chandler-esque prose as well ultimately, as the raw roots of socio-economic divides in a not-quite-but-basically-real place that, as so many of Marlowe’s cases end up being, boil down to us-versus-them concerns of money…who has it, who needs it, who wants it, and what it can get you.
Body Broker by Daniel M. Ford is lean and wiry, both in its prose as well as in how the book reflects its primary character, Jack Dixon. Uncommonly-common in a field that is too-easily swamped with so many characters that supposedly are uncommon, they themselves have become common in having the same kinds of dispositions.
Ford’s creation of Dixon, with his Travis McGee-esque houseboat life interspersed with an almost Pinkerton-esque agency backing, is acutely-aware of money and class divides, as well as the ripples that the crossing of these divides can cause. He’s to-a-fault polite and aware of the lines, and as a private eye in 2019, he doesn’t actually cross them.
The genre, in recognizing that its role is meant to be about challenging social norms through an author stand-in that is this fluid form of character with no moored social status (in this case, he’s literally moored with his boat to the pier, just not symbolically, as the boat itself allows for a level of fluidity of literal movement) unfortunately sometimes is bogged-down in the tropes of how those characters act. They’re macho and brooding and their tragic pasts are worn easily on them, either as violent former offenders, as law enforcement or military haunted by tragedies rooted in the social structures they push back against now, or, in more niche private-eye fiction, have some sort of supernatural elements to them to somehow make them more mysterious and “uncommon.”
Dixon is completely the opposites of that, in a way that’s made obvious in the book that he could disappear in a crowd with little effort, only standing out if he needs to or has to, and even his personal privations don’t feel unnecessarily-noble or cliched, but rather a facet of his personality in a deeply-indescribable way that brings to mind the almost quiet suffering of George Smiley. Also, It’s interesting that there’s no apparently- or violent pushing of boundaries and taunting these power structures he both works for and works against, which is an interesting personal aspect of the character and I’m curious of the reasons why, mostly because that level of institutional etiquette seems to almost fly in the face of what noir is supposed to be for. Does Dixon fear something? The “why” here feels like it’s got more than is revealed, which might further flesh out our protagonist.
However Ford seems to have plans for Dixon beyond this volume, so I guess we’ll see where this all goes about the weightlifting and houseboat-dwelling private eye who doesn’t like to drive a car and only owns one suit. I’m interested in seeing where this goes as well.