I‘m not sure what to call Jochem vanderSteen’s Noah Milano stories. They live in a niche between short stories and novellas, reminiscent of what Raymond Chandler used to call “long stories” when he was serializing some of them for Black Mask. This is appropriate, because vanderSteen is writing throwback PI literature for the 21st Century and doing it quite nicely. His newest effort is Scoundrel. (Or is it “Scoundrel?” Where is Ms. Hutchison to tell me when to italicize and when to enclose in quotes when I need her?) In it, vanderSteen continues to build on the advancements of the previous stories.
Noah Milano is the son of a mob boss and was following in the family business until he promised his dying mother otherwise. No dummy, he didn’t become a scuba instructor or high school art teacher, where what he’d learned and who he’d met before getting straight couldn’t help him; he put out a shingle as a private investigator. This places him on a thin and moving line, having to decide how much help he needs—and is willing to accept—from his old life. The police don’t buy his story of having seen the light and harass him while they try to figure his angle.
In Scoundrel, Milano is helping a young, pregnant woman. Her pregnancy is the result of a one-night stand with a man who gave her a fake name. She wants to keep the baby, wants no part of the father in their lives, but does think he should have to pay her something for child support. If Milano can find him.
Well, he does—not much of a story if he didn’t, right?—after following a trail of used and abused women long enough to have legitimately titled the story Piece of Shit, “scoundrel” not a strong enough word for this guy. How he does it, and what happens after he does it, are the kinds of things you find out by actually reading the story, so hustle on over to Amazon and pick yourself up a copy.
Each of the Milano stories I’ve read get a little grittier and a little more involved. vanderSteen is more willing than many to draw characters who aren’t bad, but live lives no one would be proud of, and to describe them unapologetically. He has worked hard to overcome the disadvantage of writing highly vernacular prose in his second language; little of the early self-consciousness remains in his word choices. His love of the genre is evident, both in the Milano stories and in his blog, Sons of Spade. He’s going to keep getting better, and where he takes this could get even more interesting.