Spiegelman (Everyone’s Burning, 2003) re-imagines his old gig as a New York Post “Page Six” reporter in a smarmy tale chock-full of seedy strips, hard-drinking gossips and vicious celebrities.
Spiegelman’s clearly spent some serious time hunkered down with stacks of Hammett, Chandler and Cain, and he gets most of noir’s essential elements right in this novel: an appealingly dissolute hero, dusky imagery (“Meredith Fields was malice in thousand-dollar shoes”) and a murder plot that’s a lot less interesting than the people who slither around the body. The corpse is that of Kyle Prince, a former big-time Hollywood agent laid low by a coke habit and allegations of sexual harassment; Leon Koch played up Prince’s decline in a certain powerful Gotham gossip column, which gets him accused of driving Prince to suicide. The whole world soon seems to be against Koch—the cops are sniffing him out, his paper’s owners are calling for his head, the other papers are pointing fingers at him, and still the flacks won’t stop asking if he could plug some new club or hot young thing. Spiegelman’s at his best when he has Koch navigating celebrity nightspots—a fine chapter exposes the literal strata that the in-crowd occupies at one club—and eviscerating the shallow souls who occupy them. And there are plenty: the malicious self-help guru, the cooing publicist and the disgraced journalist she represents, a heroin-smoking actress, the beyond-cynical damage-control expert who provides some beautifully expletive-laden oratory about why movie stars fascinate us so. The truth about Prince’s passing reflects humanity at its self-annihilating worst, so it makes sense that Koch is eager to pursue the only pure thing in this crazy mixed-up world: reporter Emma Lake, who’s smart, loyal and (of course) a virgin. For all its snap, though, the book feels too much like an act of impressionism, evoking unfeigned noir atmosphere, while failing to capture its dark energy.
Carefully engineered blood-in-the-gutter fare—a tabloid version of The Big Sleep.