THE DEAD CIRCUS by John Kaye

THE DEAD CIRCUS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Screenwriter/director Kaye (Stars Screaming, 1997) returns with an LA mystery whose resolution isn’t as important as the light it sheds on two decades of decadence.

When his fiancée dies in a plane crash, private investigator Gene Burk goes to Cedar Rapids for her funeral, then through Iowa to the town where Buddy Holly’s plane went down. This sets Burk on a path to reinvestigate mysterious death of rock star Bobby Fuller, which he first looked into 30 years ago during his days as an LA cop. And, oh, what days they were: Fuller was such a mover and shaker in the world of sex and drugs that Burk himself has become a piece of rock ’n’ roll history. But because the mystery is so old and mysterious, Burk has to pose as a writer/researcher for a film to be made by one of his relatives. (Who didn’t know that all screenwriters in LA were secretly private investigators?) Kaye’s narrative takes the familiar form of private dick wandering against a backdrop of creatively restored history. Burk’s interviews are often excuses for characters to paint a portrait of debauchery and drop a lot of names. Meanwhile, Kaye often writes in a distant, character-building screenwriter tone: “Two weeks earlier on a stroll to the drugstore, Nathan Burk took a false step . . . ”; “In the Summer of 1967, Alice McMillan was on the corner of Haight and Page, pacing . . . . ” The story’s second half fuzzily invokes Charles Manson’s tenure as a god to various seriously maladjusted folks. “They are waking up now,” an epigraph intones, “in dead alleys or climbing out of ditches, and soon they will be loose and running, crossing and recrossing this foul country, waiting until the winds calm and the flames die out before they decide to come home.” But what does it say about this novel that the prettiest lines are from Manson himself?

Fatally hypnotized by the world it seeks to describe.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-87113-849-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002




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