A tough L.A. stuntman turned private eye investigates a plot to entrap a rising star.
After a droll introduction during which two thugs-for-hire bicker while disposing of an inconvenient corpse, we meet David Spandau, an atypical investigator decked out in Armani and Tony Llamas. Irritable, terse and late for an assignment, Spandau is on a movie set to meet with high-strung Hollywood celebutante Bobby Dye. The actor believes he’s about to break into the A-list with a western called Wildfire, but he’s losing his cool after receiving a series of death threats. Still suffering from rodeo injuries, a little melancholy owing to a soft spot for whiskey and ex-wife Dee, the cowboyish Spandau reluctantly takes the case. He discovers that Bobby is being blackmailed by gangster Richie Stella, who wants the hot actor to headline his mob-financed flick. Even if this L.A. noir treads ground already covered by the likes of Elmore Leonard, screenwriter Depp blends its familiar elements with enthusiasm. He demonstrates a wicked behind-the-scenes awareness of Hollywood’s inherent absurdity and utilizes a wealth of old-school venues ranging from the haunted dwellings of Wonderland Avenue to the nightclubs of the Sunset Strip (including one “Voodoo Room” that strongly resembles the infamous Viper Room once owned by the author’s celebrated half-brother Johnny). Depp also turns the rare trick of creating supporting characters as charismatic as his lead, among them Terry McGuinn, an eloquent, Tolkien-obsessed runt enlisted by Spandau to co-opt one of Stella’s underlings, and Amos Potts, one of Stella’s go-to heavies who’s just trying to make ends meet. “How Dashiell Hammett,” as Terry remarks in one scene. Readers will join him in adding, “Pray go on.”
Sharp-tongued debut that obviously knows the City of Angels well.