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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

A Niche for Marilyn

by
Miguel Anxo Fernández


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Niche for Marilyn



Title: A Niche for Marilyn
Author: Miguel Anxo Fernández
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Galician
Availability: A Niche for Marilyn - US
A Niche for Marilyn - UK
A Niche for Marilyn - Canada
Un nicho para Marilyn - España (Gallego)

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Our Assessment:

B- : solid, standard PI novel, but too uneven

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       A Niche for Marilyn is the first in a series of novels by Anxo Fernández featuring Los Angeles private detective (with Galician roots) Frank Soutelo, "a detective who doesn't shoot much, doesn't smoke and gets off topic a lot talking about films and cheap literature". There's a touch of the Galician here, but it's pretty much just at the edges, as Anxo Fernández opts to go all in in Raymond Chandler-territory -- complete with a case that involves the remains of Marilyn Monroe.
       Soutelo recounts much of the story, but some of the chapters have an omniscient narrator, giving readers information and perspectives not available to the PI -- such as that: "The detective was only supposed to discover where Marilyn's body was and the rest would be taken care of by others". It's an interesting approach, separating the book from your standard PI procedural though arguably also revealing too much too easily. It's as if Anxo Fernández didn't trust readers to only discover along with Soutelo how he's been hoodwinked into something bigger and stranger than he might have first believed, or, in another instance, to make clear secretary Pat's deeper interest in her detective boss. But Anxo Fernández also undermines some of the potential usefulness of the technique by, for example, preparing readers for the fact -- or reassuring us -- that Soutelo is a pro after all and isn't quite as gullible as his client might have hoped:

     Nevertheless, Tara Colbert had definitely underestimated Soutelo's abilities when she gauged him to be just a fellow who needed to make a living.
       Anxo Fernández also opts for a pretty sensational case. Wealthy, wheelchair-bound recluse Tara Colbert hires Soutelo. She claims to have been a friend of Marilyn Monroe, and to have taken it upon herself to look after the movie star's grave; recently: "I got a message informing me that Marilyn's grave was empty". And she offers Soutelo a whole lot of money to find it.
       Apparently there are people who are, for various reasons, interested in the remains of the dead, and Soutelo finds himself immersed in the word of necrophilia -- though presumably the ... enjoyment anyone could get out of a decades-old corpse is of a somewhat different nature than that the recently deceased might offer.
       Soutelo begins by trying:
to get my head around the world of necrophilia and all the abnormal facets of this activity, the one most closely related to the urge to remove a dead body from its eternal place of rest.
       As a former policeman, he still has some contacts in the department, and a friend is able to get him up to speed on the big local players in the necrophilia game -- wealthy folk able to devote a lot of resources to their hobby. Like Tara Colbert.
       Soutelo sniffs around -- which, unsurprisingly, the necrophiliac-enthusiasts are at the very least concerned about -- and eventually settles on an elaborate plot to get Colbert what she wants -- sort of.
       A Niche for Marilyn follows the basic hardboiled PI novel template, from its protagonist -- a fairly cultured loner -- to the secretary who is in love with him, the creepy client with some ulterior motives she doesn't share with him, the suspicious other parties who want to get in on the action (or scare Soutelo off). Soutelo is tailed much of the time, and there are some unwanted confrontations. And lots of things (and some people) aren't quite what they seem.
       Anxo Fernández handles most of this reasonably well, but A Niche for Marilyn is still a bit unbalanced. Indulgent scenes of the food Soutelo enjoys (from the old country ...) are fine, but the case has to be the focus, and Anxo Fernández juggles this unevenly. While there are some quite raw descriptions of necrophiliac activities, the bizarre basic situation Soutelo is confronted with -- determining the location of Marilyn Monroe's remains -- isn't considered too closely. And while the sensational denouement, revealing Colbert's plans, is certainly spectacular, it is a bit much of a finale to append to the otherwise underdeveloped case. Soutelo's own ambivalence -- he always tries to learn as much background about what's involved in a case as possible, but here dismissively doesn't want to bother (because anyone involved in this sort of thing was obviously; "crazy or a total degenerate, a real loser") -- carries over to the novel as a whole.
       A Niche for Marilyn tries a bit too hard to follow the PI-template with its characters and atmosphere and the strangeness of the case at its heart. It goes through a lot of the right motions, but in particular the case -- and the necrophiliacs -- are underdeveloped, and then also too easily dealt with. The presentation is quite good -- it reads well enough (some unpleasant necrophiliac examples aside) -- and while the chapters that aren't told from Soutelo's perspective don't contribute quite enough, they make for interesting side-views of the action.
       A Niche for Marilyn does lay a decent foundation for the series. Soutelo is a solid lead, and Anxo Fernández does recreate the Chandler-feel of Los Angeles well enough. It would be interesting to see where the series went from here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 January 2017

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Links:

A Niche for Marilyn: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Galician-writing author Miguel Anxo Fernández was born in 1955.

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© 2017 the complete review

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