Bernard Schopen

Bernard Schopen was born in 1942 in Deadwood, South Dakota. He earned bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees at the University of Washington, and completed his PhD in English at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he has taught since 1990. Schopen is truly a western writer. His books deal with California novelist Ross Macdonald, or the various landscapes of Nevada—the setting for his three detective novels—which center on their narrator-protagonist, Jack Ross.

Schopen's doctoral dissertation concerns the American novelist John Updike, and his other academic publications assess the American hardboiled detective tradition and/or Macdonald, one of its major practitioners. It could be suggested that Schopen's novels combine Updike's moral concerns with the detective format found in the works of Macdonald and his foremost predecessor, Raymond Chandler. The artistic result is three of the best detective novels since the 1960s.

Schopen's first novel, The Big Silence (1989), reminds us of Macdonald, with its realistic investigations involving a broad cross-section of people who are not gangsters or criminals, but very much like most of its readers. There are perhaps too many such people and too many narrative twists in this first effort, but the quality of the writing and the portrayal of Schopen's detective point to the achievements to come in his next two novels, The Desert Look (1990) and The Iris Deception (1996).

The Desert Look illustrates as well as any contemporary detective novel how the memorable description of landscape, dramatic encounters with a large cast of characters (including a fascinating gangster or two), and the detective's relentless pursuit of the truth can be wedded in a single compelling narrative.

The Iris Deception is even more obviously a novel about its detective, whose efforts to serve what he fondly believes is his last "client" lead not only to the discovery of facts so central to this literary form, but to a kind of self-understanding that makes this novel a virtual bildungsroman despite the detective's age (which is never specified but seems to be mid to late fortyish). The Iris Deception also introduces a second detective, Martha Reedy, a character who helps to resolve the novel's several mysteries, saves the detective's life, and enters significantly into his personal life (as we are allowed to think at the novel's witty conclusion).

Readers of Schopen's three novels, especially The Iris Deception, would no doubt be interested in knowing more about Ms. Reedy's role in Jack Ross' life, professional and personal, should this excellent detective series ever be continued.

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