by Arnold Goldman

Miriam Leonard returns to Homer Evans’s side as though she hadn't been away for a decade (since I'll Hate Myself in the Morning). It's November 1954. Evans is at least fifty, Miriam, "more lovely for having grown into a woman," is still "‘a raving young beauty’" (says Evans). Her hopes for romance linger, his intentions remain ambiguous. "Why don’t you marry the girl, you overprivileged old goat?" blurts Evans’s landlady: "Homer glanced at the clock. Much as he adored Miriam, and esteemed her company, whenever anyone uttered the word ‘marry’ our criminologist either looked at the ceiling or the clock, to assure himself it was not as late as we think."1

Evans has taken an apartment in a dude ranch outside Las Vegas, which he affects to be the ultimate American and contemporary city, "the modern Babylon and Nineveh, Tyre and Sidon, the wild dream of all ages, a kind of sur-reality our epoch can salute and nourish, a peak of pleasure second to none which ever has erumpted since the Coming of Man." He apportions his day between writing "a sequel to Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste" and frequenting the city’s entertainments and casinos. Despite his settled routine, when a telegram arrives from Maitre Sabin, chef of the Club des Imprevoyants in Cannes, asking for communication about "EVENTS" which "PERPLEX AND DISTURB" him, Evans immediately determines to fly to France, taking Miriam as his bodyguard (her passport-certified occupation). Though he justifies his decision by claiming that his writing "might be in danger of going stale," it is really his sleuth’s nose for nefarious implications well beyond what others (including the reader) see - and which postpones (perhaps forever) the author’s need to justify his protagonist’s decisions. Explaining his choice of transport over a "slow voyage," Evans is more broadly arguing for his life choices - and Paul for changing the rules: "‘A man of this epoch must accept all the implications of modernity, or become an anachronism.’" Homer Evans and Homer Evans whodunits, cradled in the 1920s, are not going to be left behind by modernising America.2

What puzzles the renowned Sabin is an "astronomic" $2,000 a week offer from Clifford Orman, an oil tycoon "of New York, Texas and Las Vegas," to move to the last for unstated purposes. Sabin cannot answer Evans’s inquiries as to whether there is a plan afoot to build "another de-luxe hotel and casino" in Las Vegas or whether the chef is to work in the tycoon’s research laboratory. Following Evans’s train of thought, Miriam wonders if "this case is not inconsequential, but momentous." Evans successfully encourages the unwilling chef:

"You owe it to yourself to see our American part of the world, and the fabulous Las Vegas, where the aspects of vice are largely constructive, assessed along broad lines. Also, you can do me an important favor. I believed Orman, when he sold to me the tremendousness of his mysterious plan, from his point of view. Still, as you well know, since omelettes cannot be made without breaking eggs, projects designed to shake the structure of world economy, quite possibly, with animate the organized criminal elements...."

Orman wants Evans on his side, too - "‘for the sake of all I represent on the summit of private enterprise, let me retain you.’" Evans strings him along (we assume), though saying he hasn’t "‘the foggiest notion as to what you are plotting.’" Orman’s "project" may be "‘some colossal design which may, or may not, transform Las Vegas’ gangland truce into a sanguine free-for all.’"3

There gathers in Cannes a large cast, including the tycoon and his retinue - two French mistresses, Hjalmar Jansen and Tom Jackson from the early Evans whodunits (for all their present dissipation, here but a shadow of their former selves), and Finke Maguire and his client, Talbot Forran, who represents Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, latterly threatened by Las Vegas. Evans suspects Finke has organized Maurice Chevalier’s recent Hollywood contract - which required pacification of various U.S. Government agencies - which is one in the eye for the Las Vegas Strip. (The services of Eartha Kitt are also being disputed.) The Hollywood-Las Vegas rivalry is hotting up. The rest of the story’s time in Cannes is cluttered with a mysterious break-in to Evans’s suite, a bullet through his car window, the death of a French dock worker by a bullet apparently meant for Miriam, an  unsuccessful attempt to poison

Sabin’s underchef, and the sabotaging of the plane  Evans charters to take them back to the  U.S. "‘Who’d have thought, when we  started on a vacation, and to resolve  Maitre Sabin’s perplexity, or even distress,   that we should get into a hornet’s nest of  vicious, unpredictable crimes?’" Here and  throughout The Black and the Red,  however, the story’s events undermine its more apparently significant concerns without significantly adding to the narrative gaiety. The sleuth’s anxiety over what his curiosity has landed others in is also suspended, although it kicks in about two-fifths of the way through the story:

It seemed to Homer, who had set out unencumbered, that step by step he... [had] acquired what he least had expected or wanted, that is, a personal responsibility for the safety and the future of quite a sizable and varied assortment of his human brethren and sisters. No longer could he be the detached observer or explore the physiology of taste.4

Back in Las Vegas, the assembled cast are joined by Ossip Rosencrans, head of the country’s largest private detective agency, himself "one of the most dangerous and powerful individuals on the doubtful fringe encircling all police or criminal matters anywhere." Rosencrans "had organized a band of shady characters and lent them enough outward show of respectability, or legality, as defined by the letter and loopholes rather than the intent of the law." Self-styled "‘the world’s leading detective,’" he is Evans’s alter ego in contemporary America, and Evans is fighting not to become an anachronism. After a mysterious fire at the Orman laboratory, Sabin is kidnapped by Rosencrans operatives. Ingeniously he encodes his whereabouts in a shopping list which Evans’s local protegé, Kid Unamuno, sees and reports to Evans. If on the one hand Evans is pitted against Rosencrans, on the other he is engaged in passing on his expertise and his charisma to the Kid, who, though a thoroughly unlikely "son" for Evans, has a "remarkable brain, the only one [which]... might, if it reached maturity, approximate that of Homer... and later carry on the torch." Evans is reaching across the generations, but Finke, the former protegé, falls extravagantly in love with the Kid’s mother, a flamenco dancer. Miriam is, however, more discomfited by Evans’s interest in the Kid - "‘That’s all I’m good for, love and shooting. Ah, well. A woman’s fate.’" "‘I trust,’" says Evans, "‘you’ll recover your usual ideal self-possession. What lies before us may be one of our spiciest, or more perilous, adventures, up to date. We are tangling, don’t forget, with the only chap I know in the detective line who can give me decent opposition."5

The main action becomes a siege of the hideout in which Sabin is being held prisoner. Sadly, most of the Las Vegas "business" is at an even more trivially farcical level than that in Cannes - there is an extended search for Orman’s wills variously disinheriting his French mistresses for dallying with Jansen and Jackson, and a troupe of elephants is used to break into the Orman compound. In the pièce de résistance, Maitre Sabin having put a laxative in the dishes he prepares for the Rosencrans crew, it only remains for Evans to open the door on their exiting forms and "strike very skillfully... each head as it passed." Some anxiety is induced by Ossip snatching Miriam, though she escapes. Watching Evans at work produces a grudging movement in the Kid towards civility - "something in his concepts was inclining towards salutary revision... favoring expediency and selective co-operation.... For him, there really was a place." It remains only for Evans to gather "all the top wheels of the Syndicate, the Mafia [etc., etc.]," including representatives of Hollywood, for the clarifying meeting. There he uncovers both the villains - a young chemist in Orman’s employ, marched in at gunpoint by Miriam, and Rosencrans, who had boiled a vagrant to death in a swimming pool, for no apparent reason - and the mystery behind Orman’s original offer to Sabin, to have him assess by informed taste (as distinct from costly and permission-requiring drilling) whether there is oil under the soil of Las Vegas (Evans has tasted it; there isn’t). On the other hand, he preaches an end to the Hollywood-Las Vegas rivalry - "Hollywood will thrive on the overflow, and royally.... The response indicated that all Homer’s hearers were agreed and reconciled on this important point." The message boils down to live and let live, to the "balance" imported by the book’s title, "the black and the red, the debit and the credit."6


1 Elliot Paul, The Black and the Red (New York: Random House, 1956), 4, 245, 240. Miriam does declare that "Since my dear father passed on, Homer, ...I have loved you above any man on earth, or all men put together" (203). She later apologises for "the unfortunate phrase" for better or for worse, "which I did not use with predatory or blackmailing intentions, Lord perish the thought" (276). Though they always have separate, if adjoining suites, she is to him "the companion of his nights and days, the woman of all women..." (214).
2 Ibid., 265. Las Vegas is a place where "‘abandon is contagious, and joy through risk may become epidemic’" (108). Ibid., 4, 7, 9, 12.
3 Ibid., 43, 32. Orman’s involvement is unknown to Evans when he decides to fly to France. Ibid., 29-30, 52, 101, 100, 98. There are "tacit arrangements between the... representatives of Murder, Inc., the Hudson Dusters, the Cincinnati Spine Crackers, the Milwaukee Mugs, and other criminal organisations with the state, county and city authorities of Nevada, Clarke County and Las Vegas" (145).
4 "‘I wasn’t aware Finke... carried that much weight in top circles,’" says Miriam. Evans "smiled enigmatically" (Ibid., 62). In fact nothing comes of Evans’s efforts to follow this up. The meeting of Evans, Miriam and Finke is "heartfelt, dignified and convincing" (46), though readers of Homer Evans stories will have no previously awareness of Miriam and Finke ever having met. Ibid., 83, 103.
5 Ibid., 126, 126-7, 190, 225, 213. He was taking a fancy to the Kid, which Miriam noted with resignation and Finke with a grin" (231).
6 Ibid., 226, 263, 264, 265, 275, 242.

This analysis of The Black and the Red is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. ©Arnold Goldman 2001.