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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


No Sale

Patrick Conrad

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To purchase No Sale

Title: No Sale
Author: Patrick Conrad
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 270 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: No Sale - US
No Sale - UK
No Sale - Canada
No Sale - India
  • Dutch title: Starr
  • Translated by Jonathan Lynn

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Our Assessment:

B : homage to cinemania reasonably well twisted into a thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Times . 7/7/2012 Marcel Berlins

  From the Reviews:
  • "In particular, lovers of Hollywood films cannot fail to be intrigued. (...) Original, unsettling and absorbing." - Marcel Berlins, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       No Sale is an entirely cinematic novel. Its tragic hero is the cinephile (and Drama Institute film teacher) Victor Cox, a man who lives for the movies. Typically, the jewelry he gave his wife over the years consisted of storied film-prop fakes -- with Veronica Lake's wedding ring from This Gun for Hire doubling as her wedding ring, for example.
       The novel begins with the death of Victor's wife, Shelley -- a physical wreck of an alcoholic ("totally kaput with booze", the coroner finds) popularly known as Dixie, who meets an unpleasant end. For all intents and purpose, as Victor tells the police: "Shelley has been dead for years". He had met her when she was twenty-one, some two decades earlier, and since she worked in a cinema (and hence: "knew the dialogue by heart"), reminded him of Jennifer Jones, and danced with him like Cyd Charrisse, they immediately hit it off. But she sank into alcohol, and so the honeymoon was soon over.
       Given the suspicious circumstances of Shelley's death, the police look into whether or not her husband could be responsible. They eventually figure probably not:

     "He's innocent," he sighs. "A little otherworldly, but innocent."
       That's in 1998. Yet when a few more murders occur over the following years which all have a cinematic touch to them, they keep coming back to and across Victor Cox. For one, he's the only one who personally knew some of the victims. And there's a staged element to the murders and their locales that echoes famous (and not so famous) movie scenes -- which Victor, a walking film-encyclopedia, is all too familiar with.
       Victor has found some happiness in these years with a similarly film-obsessed student, Starr, and they seem to become very close after his retirement -- until she suddenly disappears, almost right before his eyes. Victor tries to rationalize what might have happened, playing out a variety of scenarios, but he does not enlist the help of the police, even as Starr's fate continues to haunt him.
       As it turns out, Victor's obsession with film runs very deep indeed, and his collection of movie-props is even bigger than imagined. Just how far lost he is in his movie-defined world remains open for much of the novel, but it becomes clear that that reality intersects closely -- and possibly dangerously -- with the one everyone else is walking around in. As is suggested:
He knows everything about the film about the cinema but it seems as if he's never been touched by real life.
       Which leaves those inconvenient and hard-to-explain murders, obviously connected in some way to him -- so obviously that even he begins to worry about what is happening.
       No Sale doesn't focus solely on Victor; it's also a police procedural, led by Chief Superintendent Luyckx and Detective Inspector Lannoy of the Antwerp police department, who lead the way in investigating these various murders. (What is it with Antwerp as a setting for cinema-dominated novels ? See, e.g. Nicholas Royle's Antwerp.) Their paths often lead them to Victor, in various capacities, and they're an interesting buddy-team, but Conrad has a bit of trouble making the novel work both ways. The police-schtick -- entertaining enough in your average procedural -- jars a bit side by side with Victor's cinema-dominated passion and (ir)reality.
       Some of the cinematic twists also feel a bit forced, as the novel doesn't just drip but rather pours with cinematic allusions, quotes, and mentions of scenes from obscure (and less obscure) movies, right down to the games the characters play. Still, it's an entertaining homage-cum-thriller -- and admittedly Conrad does well in utilizing aspects of fiction here that wouldn't translate easily to the screen: this is more effective as a novel than it could be as a film, and so it is an homage to the written noir as well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 January 2013

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No Sale: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Flemish author and film director Patrick Conrad was born in 1945.

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© 2013 the complete review

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