Young women with maps crudely tattooed on their backs hold answers to the mysteries posed in Nicholson’s arch urban thriller.
No one knows who kidnapped the women, blindfolded them and etched the maps into their skin—they're otherwise unharmed and promptly returned home. But several people are interested in the maps, which seem to point to a shadowy underground where an unidentified reward awaits. Wrobleski, a murderous criminal, will do anything to lay his hands on it. He bullies Billy, an aimless parking-lot owner with a jaded 12-year-old daughter, into collecting the tattooed women and acting as his henchman. Among those Billy roughs up is Zak, a cartography-store clerk who becomes involved with the hard-edged Marilyn; while privately dealing with the trauma of being defiled by a tattoo attacker years ago, she's combing the city for clues on the disappearance of her grandfather. She lives in the long-shuttered Telestar Hotel, a ’60s relic he designed. At times, the novel comes off like a sardonic answer to the film comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with its odd assortment of characters, rapid pacing and offbeat touches. But the author, who has also written a nonfiction book called The Lost Art of Walking (2008), is seriously devoted to the physical history of places, as reflected in the wealth of maps in the book—including the unsavory Rape Map, which charts where various assaults have taken place. "Maps are always nostalgic one way or another," says Zak. The novel also speaks to how cities are reshaped and, more importantly, reimagined.
This "cartographic thriller" by the British-born, Los Angeles–based Nicholson doesn't always rise to its subject, but it does a good job of making us think about our surroundings and the people in them.