Fresh from his well-regarded The Last Days of Il Duce (1998), Stansberry plunges into an elegiac, crummy folly: a mystery starring legendary pulpmeister Jim Thompson, still on his uppers in 1971. The dark master is 64, but he’s still got the raging appetites of a youngster, and quick as any callow noir hero he’s allowed low-rent Hollywood producer Billy Miracle to inveigle him into a deal to use a grisly newspaper anecdote as the basis for a screenplay Thompson expects to sell as a novel titled, inevitably, Manifesto for the Dead. The assignment not only brings the aging writer up against hired killers and dead beauties, a frame-up and a dozen betrayals, but plunges him into his own fiction as his life and art become intertwined. The gimmick of alternating Thompson’s real-life adventures with the macabre fiction that’s gradually swallowing him up is an ingenious conceit, but Stansberry isn’t the writer to pull it off. His occasional bleak zingers (“He had not died after all. He was in Beverly Hills”) are offset by amateurishly purple prose (the first victim is “strangled about the neck”), and Stansberry’s Thompson doesn’t write any better than Stansberry. The final effect is like a highball of Kafka and 7-Up, or a trailer for an anthology of Coen Brothers’ movies from Blood Simple to Barton Fink. At no point, sadly, does it sound like the real Jim Thompson.