Freeman - Clare London (MLR Press)
The very first sentence of London's "Freeman," sets a tone of indomitable noir. There is the tough, man of few words, Freeman—not Mister, no, just Freeman—upon a bar stool in a seedy joint where he finds, if not comfort, familiarity with the "...ugly...dark decor that reflected more the patrons' need for discretion and swift, nameless hook-up than for stylish interior decoration. But then I wasn't there for the trimmings, either. It was just somewhere to be.”
The read gradually eases into storytelling less noir, and more reflective of London's talent for providing the reader with the protagonist's turmoil, strengths, insecurities, and always—to the final word of novel—his mystery. Who is Freeman? We never really get to the essence of who this man really is.
Freeman tells us that he, "...finds things for people. Source[s] them. Cars, properties, retail goods, collectibles. Information...research. Whatever they want and will pay for." Private dick? Maybe. Maybe not. I came away from the novel not really knowing what Freeman's thing is. Intentional omission on London's part? Probably.
We do know that Freeman has history with George, an entrepreneur who controls several enterprises—including the gay bar in which Freeman first presents himself—a history that was good, productive, lucrative...purely in a business sense. During that history—and the timeframe is a little cloudy here—Freeman was married to a woman, and was apparently in love, or lust?, with one of George's underlings, Miki, a strapping, dark-complected hunk who, we get the impression, enjoyed rough sex with Freeman. Somewhere along the line in this history, George steps over to the dark side with his business ventures, and, as a consequence, Freeman ends his dealings with George, leaves Miki and goes...somewhere. Again the mystery.
Freeman does return, however, and finds himself in George's ugly, dark bar, sitting on a stool where he encounters a young man—one of George's kept boys, who is expected to and does, um, service George. We also discover as the story progresses, George has married Freeman's ex-wife. Additionally, we learn that Freeman's return to the scene of George's now surly undertakings, is for the express purpose of exposing George, and ending his nefarious operations.
Enter now the young man—George's kept boy from the ugly bar—who Freeman quite tentatively, certainly warily allows to step into his life. The young man will not reveal his name (for good reason) to Freeman, so Freeman nicknames him Kit...perhaps an apt moniker for the long-haired, headstrong, lithe, horny, barely-legal kid he proves to be.
London's forte with this tale is clearly, at once, her passion to keep Freeman as a rather amorphous character, whose past is cloudy, not really defined. That we, as readers, might want to know more about Freeman is perhaps London's tease; something that—as she gives us a wink and a sly smile—she might, just might expose in future works. We await the exposure. Freeman is, after all, a character we want to know.
But it is in London's ability to creep, ever so slowly, into Freeman's noir persona with regard to his relationship with Kit, where we find her other passion within this novel: the possibility of love amongst two unlikely partners.
Whether there is a HEA ending this story, is something you will have to find out for yourselves. Perhaps a hint from Freeman's conclusions: "There was something about having him [Kit] beside me – something about the vibrant way he spoke, moved, thought. I'd never spent much time on the concept of happiness. Things in life were either good...or they weren't. Kit had made me rethink many things."
I enjoyed this book. I recommend this book for those who crave noir, mystery, detecting, and the potential for love within the backdrop of improbability.
Reviewed by George Seaton