A filmmaker turns gambler and rues the day in Dixon’s second novel bearing the mark of James M. Cain.
Tracking young Mike Jacobs’s dismal downward spiral, readers will be thinking before long of Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice. Dixon (Ghostfires, 2004) is too good a writer to be anyone’s copycat, but the tale of a doomed, decent man told in a certain deterministic way—the protagonist seems trapped in a meticulously crafted nightmare—can’t help but resonate in the Cain manner. The story itself is a bare-bones affair. Mike makes fine documentaries no one pays to see. Three successive box-office flops have left him penniless, since much of his own money was poured into completing them. He’s begun to regard art for art’s sake as a chimera, and he’s grown to hate being broke. He also hates the way he’s forced to eat and dress. And he hates the fact that he doesn’t have the money for a date with Beck Trier, the love of his life. He hates no longer being comfortable with his peers: “They can smell the poor on you.” As Mike takes to obsessing about money, calamity gathers steam. A friend comes to him with a complex scam that has disaster written all over it, but Mike, blinkered by dollar bills, won’t see it. The scam revolves around a fixed horse race. Naturally, it backfires, resulting in brutal beatings from implacable bookies, the shameful betrayal of friends and crippling self-loathing. Then things get really bad.
So well and darkly done that readers may find themselves opting for a noir moratorium in the interest of mental health. After back-to-back exercises in bleakness, the author might want to try it too.