WASHED IN THE BLOOD by Carol Houlihan Flynn


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Hard-boiled murder mystery with pretensions--as emotionally-turmoiled cop Able Garret investigates a string of psycho-killings in grotesque, Nathanael-West-ish Hollywood circa 1938. The murder victims are found with bullets in their foreheads, in outlandish locations, dressed as movie-image favorites (Harlow, Tarzan, Scarlett), an affront to American values; the police then receive films of the actual shootings--which indicate that the victims believed they were making screen-tests. And when a surly midget escapes alive from one of these lethal screen-tests (dressed as Shirley Temple), he becomes ""Clean Cop"" Able's primary link to the killer--a cowboy with a limp whom Able starts tracking down. Meanwhile, however, Able's private life is pretty much falling apart: hard-talking wife Cora, unhinged by the death of their small son Jody, drifts further into spiritualism, into the clutches of phony revivalist Xenia; he himself is attracted to Xenia, a former hootchy-kootch dancer; he watches pre-teen neighbor Ginger, a washed-up child actress, slide into sleaziness; there's pressure from the sensationalistic news coverage of the killings. The investigation, then, becomes wrapped up with Able's psyche: ""Without Cora, without Jody, without Ginger, without Xenia, who should have been dancing wild and free in the East, without memory itself, he could not track down the last piece of himself."" And there's a murky finale/showdown with the killer, in which (true to cliche) the roles of killer and sleuth are confused, reversed, inter-changeable. A few glimmers of talent--especially in the tough/funny sketches of Hollywood losers (""You got to work on the pieces every time,"" intones a gum-snapping hand model)-but a tiresome hybrid overall, neither plausible as realistic suspense nor fully realized as a grimly fanciful, psycho-social vision of lurid, empty Hollywood.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1983
Publisher: Seaview/Putnam