I do not know anything about science fiction noir – beyond Riddley Scott’s Blade Runner. Of course I am talking about the original release which had the voice-over narration by Harrison Ford, not the plethora of director’s cuts and re-releases since 1982. I remember at the time, I actually tried to read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep – which was the basis for the film Blade Runner. The thing is, science fiction isn’t really my bag, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on – so I wandered away from that one, more than a little confused (it’s nothing like the film).
However, hard-boiled detective fiction is something that I am familiar with, having read my share of Chandler, Spillane and Hammett. All of which are perfect preparatory tools to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is a retro pop culturist’s dream come true – and fairly entertaining to boot.
The story, which is set in Melbourne, Australia, some time in the future, concerns a fellow named Floyd, who, when his wife becomes ill and racks up extensive medical bills, is coerced into employment as a ‘Seeker’. And despite the Melbourne setting, being a ‘Seeker’ has nothing to do with singing ‘Georgy Girl’ or ‘The Carnival is Over’.
A Seeker is a bit like a cop, and their job is to hunt down ‘Devs’ – Deviants. But unlike other Seekers, Floyd is not particularly trigger happy, and as the story begins, he has never killed a Dev in the execution of his duties – which makes him unique.
Floyd hates his job, and sees the hypocrisy in the system he works for, and this eats away at him. To deal with it, he drinks, smokes and takes pills – all ceaselessly and immoderately. This kind of lifestyle leads to a blurred state of mind, part dream, part reality – but all, a living hell. Nearly all of his relationships end up bad, with both his love interest, a woman named ‘Laurel’ Canyon, being relocated (which is a polite way of saying she has been instutionalised as a suspected ‘Dev’), and a friend, a professional cricketer, taken away by the ‘Cricket Police’, for missing a training session.
The world, or all that is left of it – which is Melbourne – is essentially a police state, and the only thing that stops Floyd from being carted away, is that he is one of the policiers – and even then he appears to be walking a tightrope.
If your a fan of the series Department S (and why wouldn’t you be?), the chapter entitled ‘jack your kitsch up’ will delight you no end. Our hero, Floyd and his partner Hank, are preparing to go into Richmond area – which is now a no-go zone – to track down five heavily armed Devs. Along for the ride area television crew, to film the incursion. The television network covering this incursion is ITC. The reporter on the scene is a man named Montgomery Berman, the camera operator is Stew Sullivan and their assistant is a young girl called Anabelle. For those who don’t remember, Monty Berman was one of the creators of Department S (he was also a co-producer of The Saint, with Roger Moore). And in the series Department S, Stewart Sullivan was the name of the character played by Joel Fabiani, and Anabelle Hurst was played by Rosemary Nicols. You’re forgiven for not remembering Sullivan or Rosemary, as they were overshadowed by Peter Wyngarde as the flamboyant Jason King.
This operation opens up a new world for Floyd. Once the footage of the operation is shown on TV, he becomes a minor celebrity, and he is promoted to being what is called an ‘Observer’. An Observer watches operations from the wings, with news crews gathered around – and Floyd is expected to comment on the operations for the news services.
The villain of the piece is the head honcho for an evil big business conglomerate named Hylax – think ‘Big Brother’. His name is Wolram E. Deaps, which is an anagram of Marlowe Spade. Philip Marlowe being the battered hero in many of Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled mysteries, and Sam Spade being the hero of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Of course, both Marlowe and Spade were played by Humphrey Bogart in celebrated movies made in the 1940s.
As I suggested earlier, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a retro pop culturist’s dream – and while that delighted me no end, and if you’ll forgive the self indulgence (and ego trip), I probably have watched and read more of the in-joke material referenced in the story than the majority of readers (and I am sure I missed some of the references). And therefore I would assume many other readers may find these references fly over their head, or at worst seem to be padding, or down right confusing. There is a glossary at the back, which outlines the many sources, but if you are not familiar with the source material to begin with, knowing its title, isn’t much good.
Some of you are probably wondering about the title itself, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat? It’s a line lifted from the movie That Certain Feeling, starring Bob Hope, Eva Marie Saint, and George Sanders. In the film, Sanders refers to a dog as a ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’. Said goat can be seen on the poster on the right.
So with that, I will leave it for you to decide. If you’re knowledgeable about George Sanders, Chandler, Bogart, Siamese Vodka, Hitchcock and more, then this may be the book you’re looking for. If not, you may find it confusing, and full of pointless chatter. I hope that makes sense?
You can find out more by clicking here.
Or you can order it online from Another Sky Press for $4.74 + P&H. Note, Another Sky has a great philosophy – providing a trade paperback at the cost price of production, but encouraging readers to “donate” more if they believe the artist behind the book deserves it.