The Glass Heart, also published as Her Private Passions, begins with protagonist Curt Blair stealing an expensive topcoat from a patron in a ritzy hash joint in Beverly Hills. Blair, a professional deadbeat, beats out the pursuit of the police by ducking into the house of Virginia Block, a middle-aged woman who just happened to be expecting her new gardener to arrive from an employment agency. Blair has enough streetwise moxy to pass for the job and accepts a measly $20 per week salary to cater to Block. But, the deal comes with free room and board and a convenient way to escape the police.
Blair discovers that Block is a miserable, wealthy bitch that is extremely tight with her money. She rarely pays any of the laborers that work at her house or at her sprawling walnut ranch. She possesses an uncanny knack for ripping people off, but still maintains that she is somehow helping everyone around her (like an ex-wife I know). Blair catches on quick, and is about to hit the road, when another roommate moves in – an attractive long-legged female that enjoys Blair's...company. The two go at it hot and heavy, but then another woman moves in and Blair becomes fascinated with her and her tragic history.
This was a really entertaining novel and showcased Holland's extraordinary ability to write with a male mindset. Blair behaves like any red-blooded American deadbeat, but the level of detail – mannerisms, thought patterns, physical descriptions – would have been challenging for any other female writer. There's even a clever sort of reversal when Blair says (something to the effect) that he can think like a woman. The inevitable countdown for these four wily characters to blow is a potboiler similar to James M. Cain, which is probably what drew him to the story. If you love the high-tension, stressed love, hushed murder aspects of mid 20th century crime-noir novels, then The Glass Heart should surely be your next read. Highly recommended!