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  • Reviews for No Sale by Patrick Conrad
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Reviews for No Sale by Patrick Conrad

'In 1998 Antwerp, Chief Superintendent Fons "The Sponge" Luyckx, and Detective Inspector Lannoy investigate the disappearance of Shelley "Dixie" Cox whose husband Professor Victor Cox teaches the History of Cinema at the Institute of Film and Theatre Studies. They find her battered body by the Bonaparte Dock. She apparently was drunk, got hit by a car, and tossed into the water from the Nassau Bridge. The victim was wearing Hollywood prop jewelry from famous films like This Gun for Hire and Some Like it Hot.

The cops search for the murder vehicle starting with the husband whose car matches a description of the deadly auto and is in the shop for body damage repair. Soon afterward an actress dies of carbon monoxide and other homicides seemingly related to the case follow. Cox's student Starr Mortenson vanishes while spending the weekend with him; in their room someone wrote "No Sale," from Butterfield 8. Cox is the only connection between some of the murders and the Mortenson's disappearance.

This is an engaging Belgium police procedural in which classic films play a critical role. Cox makes the storyline work with his commentary on Hollywood including the It Girl and Clint Eastwood that also come across as grandiose delusions so he muddles up the investigation confusing the police (and delightfully the reader too). Although the final reel seems too brusque, fans will enjoy this wonderful whodunit that pays homage to great 1940s and 1950s movies.’

- MBR Bookwatch
'There's no business like show business. " The same holds true for the murder business. In his award winning novel, Conrad brings the dark emotion of jealousy and the love of movies to light. A serial killer is on the loose and a man is driven to the brink of insanity. "No Sale " is a made for Hollywood must read.Film buff professor Victor Cox sees similarities to movies in almost every situation. Living in Antwerp, he has collected memorabilia from nearly every time period in Hollywood's history. His obsession is about to get the better of him. Cox’s alcoholic wife is killed and he is the prime suspect. However, there is no concrete evidence and the police have their third unsolved murder in three years. Time passes and Cox falls for a student who resembles actress Louise Brooks. As the months go by, they develop a
relationship…or do they? A fourth and fifth woman are murdered and Cox’s dream girl disappears. Later, he sees the connection between the murders and the pictures he so loves. However, he also begins to lose focus on his mental faculties and wonders if he is the killer everybody is seeking.From Hitchcock to Fatty Arbuckle, from Chaplin to Eastwood, this book covers the spectrum of moviedom. Every chapter, nearly every scene, is referenced to something from Hollywood. I enjoy books that urge me to do a little research into actual people or events and this one was no exception. Having the book set in Belgium added an interesting flavor to the plot as well as the slightly surreal characters. Conrad’s "No Sale " gets added to my collection.’ - Suspense Magazine
‘In this engrossing mystery set in 1998 from Belgian author Conrad ('Limousine'), Antwerp Chief Supt. Fons Luyckx, known as the Sponge for his retention of information, looks into the murder of a woman fished out of the water at the city's Bonaparte Dock. The authorities soon identify the battered body as that of Shelley Cox, the missing wife of film historian Victor Cox. The less than distraught widower, who regarded the alcoholic Shelley as having been figuratively dead for years, naturally becomes the prime suspect. Things only get worse for him after his wife's murder proves to be one of a series inspired by movies such as The Big Heat and Psycho, and he's found to have known several of the victims. The sardonic Sponge, who moves things along nicely, could easily sustain a series. This book won the Diamond Bullet Award for the best crime novel in Dutch in 2007.' - Publishers Weekly
‘In 1998 Antwerp, Chief Superintendent Fons “The Sponge” Luyckx, and Detective Inspector Lannoy investigate the disappearance of Shelley “Dixie” Cox whose husband Professor Victor Cox teaches the History of Cinema at the Institute of Film and Theatre Studies. They find her battered body by the Bonaparte Dock. She apparently was drunk, got hit by a car, and tossed into the water from the Nassau Bridge. The victim was wearing Hollywood prop jewelry from famous films like “This Gun for Hire” and “Some Like it Hot”. The cops search for the murder vehicle starting with the husband whose car matches a description of the deadly auto and is in the shop for body damage repair. Soon afterward an actress dies of carbon monoxide and other homicides seemingly related to the case follow. Cox's student Starr Mortenson vanishes while spending the weekend with him; in their room someone wrote "No Sale," from Butterfield 8. Cox is the only connection between some of the murders and the Mortenson's disappearance. This is an engaging Belgium police procedural in which classic films play a critical role. Cox makes the storyline work with his commentary on Hollywood including the It Girl and Clint Eastwood that also come across as grandiose delusions so he muddles up the investigation confusing the police (and delightfully the reader too). Although the final reel seems too brusque, fans will enjoy this wonderful whodunit that pays homage to great 1940s and 1950s movies.' - Genre Go-around
‘Antwerp film professor Victor Cox is losing his tenuous grip on reality. His wife was murdered in circumstances that evoke the real-life death of an obscure noir actress; his new girlfriend looks like Louise Brooks with a touch of Clara Bow; a series of other murders in the city parallel still more moments in film history. Cox is the natural suspect, but he appears to have alibis. Or does he? Even the professor begins to believe he may be the killer, perhaps because it would make such a fine film-noir premise, or because it fits so perfectly with the thesis of Cox's study on repressed sexuality in Hitchcock. The plot crumbles a bit at the end, as a pair of Antwerp cops closes in on the killer (the procedural element never quite melds with the more stylized noir plot). Still, film noir is famous for its creaky plots. Maybe Conrad muddled the story line consciously, as part of his homage. Either way, for noir devotees, this one is must reading.' - Booklist
‘I once saw ‘Elvis the Concert' in Antwerp. The performance featured Elvis on a big screen backed live by his original band. I have relatives who live in Belgium but I have no illusions. An inexplicable need had dragged me to the arena. Most of the action in ‘No Sale' happens in Antwerp and the main character is also obsessed. The first 35 pages of ‘No Sale' suggest that the book might be a variation on an Ed McBain or Georges Simenon novel. The book begins with a murder and two typical detectives begin their enquiries. But it develops into something very different when cinema addict Walter Cox appears. From that point we have the suspense of wondering whether our unreliable narrator really is crazy. The ending when it arrives is no surprise but what makes the book tantalising is how we soon become desperate to know which of the alternate endings will apply. ‘No Sale' is loaded with narrative grip. Most mysteries depend on hidden facts but ‘No Sale' substitutes confused fantasy for unrevealed information. This technique also supports well the main engine of suspense which is whether Walter is the paranoid violent schizophrenic he thinks he might be. There are definitely echoes of ‘Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov and the old man hero obsessed with the much younger girl and what may or may not be happening. This time, though, the wandering is not along the interstate routes of America. Walter drives around his own cinema memories. Of course, this is for most of us the real Promised Land. The America that is alive inside our heads. Like Humbert Humbert, Walter Cox is building a new world that we know will be unsustainable. The plot and the style are managed brilliantly. The narrative voice of Walter is unreliable but seductive. The two detectives are a little dull but their stolidity suits the story. We have more than enough eccentricity and exotica elsewhere. Indeed, the theme of the book might be how innocent escapism, futile myth mania and dark schizophrenia unite us all. The book has many fine moments including a strip poker game that involves naming the appearances of Alfred Hitchcock in his films. Throughout I rooted for Walter Cox, like most readers will, but I was disappointed to know that the alcoholic wife whom he rejected looked like Dorothy Malone in ‘Too Much, Too Soon.' Dorothy Malone? Walter, that is unforgiveable. I am not sure what ‘cinemascope breasts' look like but more than one male reader will have a very pleasant moment trying to imagine. There are also plenty of good throwaway lines like; 'I found madam's clothes behind the greenhouse in the rhubarb.' I have no idea why the rhubarb makes that funny but it does. ‘No Sale' won the Diamond Bullet Award for the best crime novel in Dutch in 2007. 'No Sale' hardly needs praise from me. It will, though, help me remember Antwerp and Elvis fondly.' CrimeChronicles - CrimeChronicles
‘I once saw ‘Elvis the Concert' in Antwerp. The performance featured Elvis on a big screen backed live by his original band. I have relatives who live in Belgium but I have no illusions. An inexplicable need had dragged me to the arena. Most of the action in ‘No Sale'happens in Antwerp and the main character is also obsessed. The first 35 pages of ‘No Sale' suggest that the book might be a variation on an Ed McBain or Georges Simenon novel. The book begins with a murder and two typical detectives begin their enquiries. But it develops into something very different when cinema addict Walter Cox appears. From that point we have the suspense of wondering whether our unreliable narrator really is crazy. The ending when it arrives is no surprise but what makes the book tantalising is how we soon become desperate to know which of the alternate endings will apply. ‘No Sale' is loaded with narrative grip. Most mysteries depend on hidden facts but ‘No Sale'substitutes confused fantasy for unrevealed information. This technique also supports well the main engine of suspense which is whether Walter is the paranoid violent schizophrenic he thinks he might be. There are definitely echoes of‘Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov and the old man hero obsessed with the much younger girl and what may or may not be happening. This time, though, the wandering is not along the interstate routes of America. Walter drives around his own cinema memories. Of course, this is for most of us the real Promised Land. The America that is alive inside our heads. Like Humbert Humbert, Walter Cox is building a new world that we know will be unsustainable. The plot and the style are managed brilliantly. The narrative voice of Walter is unreliable but seductive. The two detectives are a little dull but their stolidity suits the story. We have more than enough eccentricity and exotica elsewhere. Indeed, the theme of the book might be how innocent escapism, futile myth mania and dark schizophrenia unite us all. The book has many fine moments including a strip poker game that involves naming the appearances of Alfred Hitchcock in his films. Throughout I rooted for Walter Cox, like most readers will, but I was disappointed to know that the alcoholic wife whom he rejected looked like Dorothy Malone in ‘Too Much, Too Soon.' Dorothy Malone? Walter, that is unforgiveable. I am not sure what ‘cinemascope breasts' look like but more than one male reader will have a very pleasant moment trying to imagine. There are also plenty of good throwaway lines like; 'I found madam's clothes behind the greenhouse in the rhubarb.' I have no idea why the rhubarb makes that funny but it does. ‘No Sale' won the Diamond Bullet Award for the best crime novel in Dutch in 2007. 'No Sale' hardly needs praise from me. It will, though, help me remember Antwerp and Elvis fondly.‘ - Crime Chronicles
‘Despite his name, Patrick Conrad is Dutch, a screenwriter, film director and poet as well as a novelist. 'No Sale' is set in his native Antwerp. One can readily detect his other occupations. This could have been written for cinema, and its leitmotif is the incredible cinematographic knowledge of Victor Cox, the leading character. This intertwines a series of gruesome murders of young women, all in some way connected to films Cox knows, and to memorabilia owned by him. So did he or didn't he? This is one of the most compelling crime novels I have read for some time, holding the reader with increasing suspense to the very end. It won the Diamond Bullet Award for best crime novel in Holland in 2007. The English translation was published this year. If this is the quality of all of Mr Conrad's work, I hope there are more translations in the pipeline.' - Journal of the Law Society of Scotland
‘If I were to say to you: ‘murder mystery and Belgian detective', how many of you would come back with ‘Hercule Poirot'? Only a dedicated, but discerning, few would, I suspect, have answered ‘Chief Superintendent Fons Luyckx' which may be a strange name to many but a very useful one at Scrabble. It is also the name of the Antwerp detective hero of 'No Sale', published by Bitter Lemon, and written by Patrick Conrad, the Belgian (Flemish) poet, painter and film-maker who actually writes in Dutch. Anyone familiar with the comedy of Bill Bailey will have certain preconceptions about Belgian jazz fans. They are all confirmed in No Sale, although jazz references are outnumbered at least ten-to-one by references to films. This is a movie buff's dream of a crime novel which starts when the estranged wife of a professor of film history is fished out of an Antwerp dock, very dead. It could almost be the opening to a classic film noir. All in all it's a surprisingly zippy read which moves at a fair clip, the pace maintained by cinematic scene shifts and splashes of black humour. Who was it said that crime fiction in translation was never fun? That was probably me.' - Shotsmag
‘Note: In 2008 this novel was WINNER of the Diamant Bullit Award for Best Thriller of the Netherlands and Belgium.“ Who is this withdrawn, exhausted man sitting with atrophied decency opposite [Chief Superintendent] Luyckx and staring at him fuzzily through his glasses? What is he hiding, sitting there so quietly? How many revolting stories have been piling up for years behind that impenetrable mask? Why does he not ask any question, why does he sit there petrified, sunk in thought….” Flemish author Patrick Conrad, who is also a poet, screenwriter, director, and painter, combines his varied talents in this lively and unusual novel of the silver screen, and fans of the classics, including early black-and-white films, will be kept thoroughly entertained and engaged throughout. Several Antwerp deaths modeled after murders in classic films, or associated with the scandalous lives of Hollywood stars and directors, keep Chief Superintendent Fons Luyckx, known as The Sponge, and his assistant, Detective Inspector Lannoy, involved with all the gory details as they search for real clues to real murders while also searching for film connections which might provide them with ideas as to possible motivations of the killer or killers. At the heart of the mystery is Professor Victor Cox, who teaches the History of Cinema at the Institute of Film and Theatre Studies and who first comes to the attention of the police when his wife Shelley, known as Dixie to her friends, vanishes one night. The police quickly discover Shelley's mangled body. While staggering, drunk, across an Antwerp bridge with a companion, she had been hit by a car, her body thrown off the bridge by someone unknown. In a double irony, Shelley was still wearing all her jewelry when she was discovered, all of it props used in classic films—her wedding ring the one which Veronica Lake wore in This Gun for Hire, her earrings those worn by Karen Morely in Scarface, two other rings worn by Barrie Chase in Cape Fear and Ida Lupino in High Sierra, and her pearls worn by Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot. The dark humor of the latter is not lost on the detectives, one of whom wears a Smurf shirt, though they take their jobs seriously as they search for the person who drove the car which killed Shelley. When they interview Cox, they learn that that his car, matching the description of the death car, is in the repair shop for front-end damage. Several other deaths soon lead the police to decide that all have been committed by the same person, and Cox is associated with at least three of the victims. The author keeps the tension high as five new deaths unfold, and fans of classic films will almost certainly become involved in trying to figure out which famous films provide clues to these deaths, only one of which is obvious. Death #1, chronologically, is the death of an actress who dies of carbon monoxide in a classic car. Death #2 is that of a nurse found naked in a pool of blood in the parking garage of a hospital. Death #3 takes place at the decrepit Babylon Motel, where a school teacher is stabbed to death in the bathroom. Death #4 is that of a high-class prostitute, who dies outside Antwerp near where Cox is staying, her body found half-burned in a trash container. Death #5 is that of a young baroness, found naked in her greenhouse, with lipstick drawn on her body and a message in lipstick left on the window. And while all this is going on, Starr Mortenson, a student of Cox whom he thinks resembles Clara Bow, disappears when she goes for a swim alone at night while spending the weekend with him. Clues to these murders come at random as the police investigate, leaving the reader with the challenge of keeping straight the names of the victims and the nature of their deaths; the plots of the various films that Cox ponders for clues to the deaths; the names of the victims in the films; the screen names of actresses who have played in those films and their real names; and the possible connections to Cox. In addition to all this, the author inserts red herrings galore, all of which are fascinating from the standpoint of film history. “Real” life and “reel life” become confused both in Cox's mind and in the reader's as the investigations continue. Though classic noir film has never been one of my passions, I was captivated by this unusual mystery. Confusing as the novel may be at times, since Cox's musings are often random and go in many different directions, the information, most of it new to me, about directors, actors and actresses, their lives, and their films kept me wanting to know how the author would resolve the details of six deaths within one novel. Loaded with references to Hollywood stars, from Frances Farmer and Clara Bow to Elizabeth Taylor and Clint Eastwood, to name just a few, the novel also features numerous, well known directors and insights into their films to keep the interest high. Cox, the professor, constantly associates even small scenes from his own life with films, and as the pressure on him increases and one wonders if he has completely lost his grip on reality, his tendency to escape into his film memories increases. Original, filled with dark humor, and great fun to read (even for novices to classic film), this novel creates a real persona for Cox, and though the novel can hardly be considered a psychological study, it does go beyond the flat characters one so often associates with novels in which the police must solve multiple murders. The conclusion, which comes rather abruptly, does connect the deaths here with specific films or with the lives of specific actors, so no reader will be left in the dark about the films or actors used as models here, and though the connections are tenuous and strain credulity in several cases, the author's clever and original use of detail will keep the reader smiling.' - Mary Whipple

'Cinema fans rejoice. NO SALE is a mystery novel brimming over with movie references, filmic anecdotes and clues to the crimes from show biz wrapped up like pigs in a blanket.
Dr. Victor Cox is a middle-aged, just-retired professor of cinema history. His knowledge of his subject is encyclopedic, and he has a fabulous collection of movie memorabilia including a twenty-seven foot high elephant that was used in D.W. Griffith's silent movie "Intolerance". Cox has had it transported from Hollywood to his storage facility in Antwerp, Holland, where he lives, and then refurbished. He actually has set up a little study inside the pachyderm where he writes and thinks. Professor Cox is somewhat eccentric.
Just at his retirement, the murders of young women begin, starting with his wife who began her career as an actress and whose life has dissipated into that of a drug-addicted, alcoholic, anorexic wreck. On a misty, stormy forbidding night she is killed by a speeding hit-and-run car. Then someone lovingly cradles her crushed body in his arms and throws her into the water at the Napoleon Dock. Through the thickness of the night, someone else is watching this happen.
This evocative scene appears at the very beginning of the novel and lets us know this is to be very much in the tradition of noir fiction; the best of Antwerp Noir and high up in the overall pantheon of the genre.
Then the other murders begin; although it turns out there have been some previous ones. Each brutal murder is of a young beautiful woman who is or has been aspiring to show business. They all have a connection to Victor Cox, either a close or tangential one.
More disturbing is each killing is set up to mimic a film murder or the death of a real actress. Cox is convinced that the killer is challenging him to solve the cases and stop the spree.
Cox is, of course, a suspect himself, and the Antwerp detectives dog him, but later after Cox gets a letter from one Henri C. challenging him to a deadly game of movie trivia, the plodding police, who have never even heard of "Psycho" begin working with him.
One of the murders is of a young singer who comes into Cox's hangout, The Bogart Bar, and with whom he has an erotic encounter. She is killed that very night. Please excuse this lengthy quote but it will give you a feeling for Conrad's fine prose:

Cox was just about to order a prawn sandwich when a woman of indeterminate age placed her mink stole on the stool next to him and sat down a little farther along the bar. He had never seen her before in the hotel. Her wavy dark-brown hair rumbled down over her bare shoulders. She was wearing a tight bodice in wine-red silk, pushing up pneumatic CinemaScope breasts, and a long evening dress in black organza, slashed high, so that he thought he glimpsed the curve of a thigh in the half-light. She removed an ivory cigarette case from her handbag, flicked it open, took out a Winston and turned enquiringly to Cox. She was holding her cigarette just like Gloria Grahame, he thought... Suddenly he was sitting... opposite a femme fatale who seemed to have stepped out of a film by Henry Hathaway like a living cliché. A film noir icon who asks an unknown mysterious stranger for a light in order to make his acquaintance. The sort of woman you could only imagine lit from behind and wreathed in plumes of smoke. He slipped off his stool, as lithe as Rick in Casablanca and lit her cigarette.
"Thanks." (pp. 96-97)

A remarkably vivid scene, even more so because it contains only one word of dialogue.

Neither is the novel without humor, although granted it's not a laugh riot. One very entertaining scene has Cox and his girlfriend Starr, (Hmm... What's in a name?) who is a cinema fanatic herself, playing a game of Strip Hitchcock. Each player in turn has to give the scene in a Hitchcock movie, in which Hitchcock himself appears, and the other must name the film, or one names the film and the other has to describe the scene. Cox wins in a landslide, one suspects with a little help from the now naked Starr.
The book is so filled with cinematic references it's almost as if Conrad has challenged the reader himself to a trivia game. This may annoy some readers, but if you're a movie buff at all you'll enjoy playing. And in any case the novel is easily good enough to stand on its own as a an excellent noir mystery. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.'

- Iloveamystery.com
‘We all know about life imitating art, but what about novels imitating film—film noir in particular? Patrick Conrad's 'No Sale' (the words written in lipstick on a mirror by Gloria Wandrous, the Elizabeth Taylor character in Butterfield 8) is only the latest in a short list of crime fiction that draws on film noir for both plot and mood. It makes a peculiar kind of fictional sense that characters obsessed with film noir would find the worlds of the films they adore superimposed upon their personal lives. Make sure your subscription to Netflix is up-to-date before sampling any of these hypnotic novels. Antwerp film professor Victor Cox is losing his tenuous grip on reality. His wife was murdered in circumstances that evoke the real-life death of an obscure noir actress; his new girlfriend looks like Louise Brooks with a touch of Clara Bow; a series of other murders in the city parallel still more moments in film history. Cox is the natural suspect, but he appears to have alibis. Or does he? Even the professor begins to believe he may be the killer: after all, it would make a great film noir, perhaps a new ending for his study of sensuality in the works of Hitchcock. The plot crumbles a bit at the end, but film noir is famous for its creaky plots. Who knows—maybe Conrad muddled the story line consciously, as part of his homage. Raymond Chandler would like that, as he famously couldn't tell the screenwriters of 'The Big Sleep' who killed Eddie Mars, the crime that drives the novel's action.' - Booklist
‘Patrick Conrad is a Dutch author, and this novel, translated by Jonathan Lynn, makes excellent use of his knowledge of the film world – he has written and directed twenty films over the years. This book won an award for the best crime novel in Dutch in 2007, and I can see why. It is extremely well-crafted and intriguing. After a woman's body is found in an Antwerp dock, the cops turn their attention to the victim's husband, Victor Cox, but they are unable to prove that he killed her. The action really takes off when the focus switches from the investigation to the life and misadventures of Victor, a professor of film history, and my only real criticism of the book is that an even greater focus on the intense situation in which Victor finds himself might have made it even more consistently gripping. Victor is soon enmeshed in a nightmarish sequence of events, as a number of women with whom he is connected meet gruesome deaths – and the crimes seem to be patterned on killings which occur in film noir classics. For a film noir buff, this novel is utterly fascinating, but a wider readership will be gripped by the increasing sense of paranoia that Victor experiences, especially when a young woman to whom he is attracted disappears in strange circumstances. The unravelling of the complex plot is very well done, and there are some marvellously atmospheric scenes. A very good example of Eurocrime. ‘ - Tangled Web
'Imagine a metafiction serial-killer thriller written by Paul Auster on speed. Imagine an obsessive Flemish professor of film history finding his life increasingly filled with scenes from classic film noir - film noir because scenes and murders from Psycho, Rear Window, Rope, Strangers on a Train, No Escape, Butterfield 8, The Big Heat et cetera are being re-enacted in uncanny detail all about him. Worse, the women killed - each of whom resembles an actress from a noir film - are all women he has met, and the first of them is his alcoholic wife. It's as if he were the unlucky hero of such a film. Is he being framed? Is he insane? What's happening? When even the investigating cop sees himself as Dirty Harry, this amusing, teasing, film-crazy novel keeps you guessing through every reel.’ - Crime Time

'No Sale is an excellent example of Dutch noir, a category hitherto unknown to me. In particular, lovers of Hollywood films cannot fail to be intrigued. The central character, Victor cox, is a professor of film history. The plot revolves around a series of murders of young women, each linked to an event in a famous film (the shower scene in Psycho), a scandalous event in real-life Tinsel Town or even a coincidence of names. Cox fallsin love with a woman because she so resembles Louise Brooks. But is Cox himself the killer? Original, unsettling and absorbing.’

- The Times
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