A private dick irrigated with booze and soused by desire falls for a dangerous dame in Kevin Young's Black Maria, a noir in verse that will give Raymond Chandler's best a run for their money. The action starts, as it always does in noirs, with a woman asking for a light. A.K.A. Jones, the book's hard luck narrator, cheekily quips he can give Delilah Redbone dark instead of light. She accepts, and off we go to the races: the dog track, the moody night, the shadowy interrogations, the velvet betrayals and the hung over mornings. Many a night ends with Jones alone, bent over a diner table asking for "two eggs/over queasy." Then it's back to his apartment and his "Murphy bed like a booby/trap."
Like Young's last book, Jelly's Blues, a series of sweet and lowdown licks in the vein of the great Jelly Roll Morton, Black Maria is essentially an homage—only this time its to film noir. Turning phrases left and right, spangling his story with the occasional rhyming couplet, Young manages to evoke noir's familiar conventions without simply duplicating contours. Like many private investigators, Jones is basically a drunk, but in Young's voice he has a "bachelors in Bourbon" and an aching heart.
He has seen too much human unkindness to know better then to mess around with this no-good woman. "If despair had a sound," he drawls, "it would be: DO NOT DISTURB." And yet he presses on, "Wisdom this tooth/aching I want removed." It's a testament to Young's narrative gusto that we practically reach inside this delicious read to supply the pliers.