The Devil's Wind by Richard Rayner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Rayner’s “The Devil’s Wind” is not a typical mystery. For the first 120 or so pages it is a solid piece of literary fiction. The mystery thread of the plot does not take away from the seriousness of the novel, it does not cheapens it in any way. Even with the obligatory “twists and turns” towards the end, “The Devil’s Wind” still is a serious literary work.
The mystery thread is rich enough and satisfying, yet the non-mystery layers of the novel are more fascinating. The book is about how people construct their identities for purposes of deception. It is about ambitious, rich, powerful, and mostly despicable people continually scheming and plotting to expand their wealth and power. Deception is the defining factor in relationships between most people: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, and between friends and acquaintances. Most characters are utterly repulsive: politicians, crime-based owners of Las Vegas, thugs. The main character, the successful architect, Maurice Valentine, is pretty loathsome as well.
The novel is set in the mid-1950s (with flashbacks to few years earlier) in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and in the vast California and Nevada desert. These were the times of atomic bomb tests in the desert, maturing of the bebop jazz, and the aftershocks of investigations of House Un-American Activities Committee were still reverberating. The feel of the time and place is masterfully shown in the novel. One can find a superficial resemblance to Chandler’s opus and many other works of noir. The writing is first-class even if I am not sure about one literary device: several times the author writes about the time frame of the novel as “then”. As if he were purposefully putting the “present time” of the novel in the rather distant past.
All in all, a very good book, one that will stay with me.
Four and a half stars.
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