by Patrick Brancaccio

The American hard-boiled school of the noir novel, with its evocative sense of setting and its wisecracking, antiheroic protagonists willing to cut procedural corners, goes back almost 100 years and has spawned subgenres in the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, and elsewhere.

Port City Black and White
Port City Black and White
Gerry Boyle ’78
Down East (2011)

Author Gerry Boyle ’78, the editor of this magazine, who seasoned his art in the noir tradition with a group of excellent detective novels in his Jack McMorrow series, published the second installment of his Brandon Blake police novel series, Port City Black and White, this summer.

Brandon Blake, in his twenties, was abandoned by his mother at the age of 4 and left in the care of a guilt-ridden, alcoholic grandmother, Nessa. As did the first Blake novel, Port City Shakedown, Port City Black and White portrays a Portland, Maine, stripped of the glamour of the Old Port shops, New York Times-recommended restaurants, and enthusiastic cruise-ship shoppers. It is a working port city with ferries, fishing boats, and giant floating hotels.

Boyle uses the layout of the city as a structural grid for the plot. There is precise use of the geography of Casco Bay and its many islands, and the streets of Portland—Congress and Commercial, Exchange and the Eastern Promenade—provide not only realism but a richly suggestive texture of the social scene. Blake, now a rookie with the Portland police, is developing a more complex relationship with his girlfriend, Mia, but still suffering from the pains of childhood abandonment.

These demons come flooding back when he investigates the disappearance of a six-month-old boy whose young mother lost track of the baby at a crack party. On patrol Blake partners with Kat, a gay triathlete who tries to control his impulse to ignore procedures in a department trying to build relationships in the community.

As the title suggests, the neophyte Blake sees issues in black and white and recognizes no line between on-duty and off-duty time. His obsessive search for the missing child strains his relationship with Mia, brings cautions from Kat, and threatens his career almost before it begins. His discomfort with Mia’s trust-funded friend Lily and her Barbadian restaurateur partner, Winston, turns out to be more than class resentment and feeds the plot with violent action.

Brandon’s search for the missing child leads him to the back streets and to the water, and he navigates both expertly. The novel will please boaters as well as admirers of tough, pithy dialogue and fast-paced action. In Brandon Blake, Boyle has created an interesting new protagonist who has a lot to learn as a policeman and as a man—as well as prospects for another long and fine series.