Thanks to an essay on newyorker.com by Ian McEwan (a gifted writer whose name, along that of the actor Ewan McGregor, has inspired a character name I hope to use some day, "Ewan Meehan"), I have decided to admit something to myself. Michael Drayton, Detective Guy (a title I had abandoned in favor of Dead in His Tracks--more dishonesty) is not a novel, but a novella.
There. I've said it. It's a novella. A long novella, but a novella nonetheless.
Despite being able to trick out the word count due to publishing conventions to 62,000 words, it's actual word count is actually just over 50,000. There's some controversy (isn't there always) about where the novel begins and the novella leaves off, but there can be no doubt that Drayton at best straddles that line. In fact, while preparing it to possibly self-publish sometime in the new year, I found out that it only made for a 157-page trade paperback edition, which, while longer than my current collection of short stories, Looking for Christmas (available from Lulu.com, Amazon.com, and BN.com), is still not a particularly lengthy tome.
Of course, in terms of the publishing establishment, this is just another strike against it. Drayton is a hard-boiled mystery that isn't really a hard-boiled mystery, but a kind of metaprepostmodern take on the hard-boiled form and particularly on the fiction of Raymond Chandler. It's short. (They like mysteries to be at least 70,000 words in the concrete canyons of New York.) The hero is nonviolent, although there is violence in the book. There's only one corpse, and he shows up a couple of chapters in rather than at the top of page two. I have a funny name that they can't easily pigeonhole. It's unique and quirky and--I can say this from having read parts of it recently after more than a year away from it--utterly brilliant.
The language sparkles, the characters pop. It takes on life in the world as it is lived rather than the fantasy world of the mystery genre. It has themes that it considers seriously, even when it is being funny, and it is often funny. It even reconsiders the themes of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and thinks about such concepts as honor and duty and what it means for a man to have a personal code that he adheres to strictly.
And, on top of all that, it's a damn fine read.
And it is a novella. There's no way of getting 'round it. And, as Ian McEwan points out, that's something to be proud of.