A humorous debut novel about a self-appointed detective.
Santa Barbara native Gilbert Beck wakes up in a hospital not knowing why he’s there. He lives in a world of extraordinary circumstances. After winning the lottery at 18, he dropped out of high school; shortly thereafter, he got in a car accident, the subsequent lawsuit costing him a fifth of his winnings. Next, in a fight at a pool hall, he lost a “good third of [his] lip.” Ten years later, Gilbert’s luck seems no better. At Clover Sky Mobile Home Estates, while trying to photograph a possibly adulterous wife (at her husband’s request), someone knocks him unconscious and ignites the trailer. He wakes in the hospital under the watch of suspicious detectives, who inform him that he was found next to an empty gas can. The detectives erroneously suggest that one of Gilbert’s clients, adult-film star Gloria Mundy, died in the fire. Gilbert becomes obsessed with the idea that someone wanted to kill Gloria. He starts his own investigation, trailing an Arab man he sees near Gloria’s house. Following the unknown man—alternately referring to him as “the Arab” and “the terrorist”—Gilbert trails him all the way to Nevada, wondering if he’s also connected to the previous night’s violence at two U.S. embassies in Africa. “The Arab” is eventually identified as Terrance Sullivan, a man with numerous aliases who’s involved in various plots. By the time this becomes clear, though, there are too many characters and too many possible conspiracies. The story becomes unhinged; increasingly wild and unbelievable, it lacks a consistent, anchoring voice since the point of view expands beyond Gilbert to include Gloria and Terrance. Though the conversations are often hilarious, the pages teem with digressions and verbosity (“masticated” stands where “chewed” would be best, for instance). Elsewhere, the political discussion between Terrance and the two detectives resembles a high school debate, as if it belongs in a different book altogether.
A playful romp full of pithy dialogue.