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A STYLISH NOVEL SET IN POSTWAR TANGIER which pays more than a nod to classic noir – really, what’s not to like? And Christine Mangan’s fictional debut, Tangerine, ticks all those boxes, and much more. Beautifully packaged, with a black-and-white cover model channelling a young Lauren Bacall, the book is a well-crafted mystery, competently written, full of careful descriptions of Morocco in the 1950s.

Tangerine opens in Tangier, where frightened-by-life Brit Alice Shipley has recently relocated with her new husband, John. Alice is struggling to fit in, her world little more than the apartment in which they live, but John is in love with Morocco. Enter Lucy, Alice’s former great friend and polar opposite, who’s apparently come to mend fences. The two women haven’t spoken since an incident at Bennington, Vermont, where they were roommates.

As we shift between Alice and Lucy’s viewpoints, we witness firsthand Alice’s troubled reaction to Morocco, made worse by her own shifting and heightened perceptions of reality. In contrast, Lucy seems drawn to the country’s romanticism and architectural beauty. As the women settle into some semblance of their old friendship, Lucy helps Alice experience her new home, but then old resentments and jealousies begin to surface. When John goes missing, Alice starts to question everything.

Detachment and coolness are a big part of classic crime. We, as readers, experience most things through the distance and analytical capabilities of the protagonist, who isn’t always particularly likeable it’s true, but is still, for the most part, usually quite passionate, almost obsessive even, about someone or something. Vera Caspary’s Laura (1942/43) for example, showcases this beautifully, something Otto Preminger’s lush 1944 movie also picks up on. In Tangerine, however, I felt like I was experiencing everything through a layer of glass, the distance more to do with Mangan’s exact and, in places, surprisingly formal style of writing than in the planned characterization of the protagonists. Even the descriptions of Tangier, while detailed, appear quite cold. They fail to evoke the smells, the tastes, the dirt, the visceral qualities of Morocco – the hinterland which I personally, as a reader, so crave, and which is quite often utilised to highlight how isolated or involved a character is. Those kind of details, those kind of feelings are what make a book truly sing in my opinion.

Already optioned by Smokehouse Pictures, George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s production company, Tangerine is undoubtedly on everyone’s radar. And one can imagine the film adaptation will make for a gorgeous cinematic experience – Soderbergh-esque in style, finely lit and sound-tracked. As for the book, it’s already got a lot of attention and some cracking reviews in papers and magazines, Mangan undoubtedly a rising star. And please don’t get me wrong, Tangerine is a proficient read. I just wanted more: I wanted to love it. And that regretfully didn’t happen. But in that, I suspect, I will be in the minority.

 

Tangerine | Christine Mangan| Little, Brown | 22 March 2018 | hardback | £14.99 |

 

Suggested soundtracks: Lujon’ by Henry Mancini (‘Slow hot wind’; lush, gorgeous, sexy, also, incidentally, my wedding music…); ‘Yama’, Art Blakey and the Messengers (just lovely, jazz at its best and original footage of gorgeous Lee Shorter on trumpet, Art Blakey in the background on drums, tenor saxophone is fantastic Wayne Shorter, piano is Bobby Timmons and on bass Jymie Merritt); Laura (1944) soundtrack by David Raksin (just beautiful; great noir mood music)

Suggested food: mezze with a lot of fresh mint tea or inky black coffee with huge amounts of sediment

 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Little, Brown for providing a book proof. All views expressed are our own. Image of sepia book proof © The Literary Shed 2018.

 

Also of interest:Beauty in Translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s Canadian noir’; ‘We should all be feminists‘; ‘Force of Nature–aka where’s Alice Russell?‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry‘; ‘”Amethyst and flowers on table” – the beauty of Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell‘; ‘The beauty of Sarah Taylor’s The Shore‘; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut The Dry – murder and mayhem in small-town Australia‘; ‘An Alaskan epic – Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten‘; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday‘.

 

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