A pathologically arrogant, wealthy young man sets off on a journey of self-discovery, family tragedy, and sexual conquest in Spencer’s modern California noir debut.
Oliver Bass, 17, has been expelled from his fancy San Francisco prep school for talking back to his teachers, despite his historically high grade-point average. In his emotionally cold Pacific Heights home, where Oliver exhaustively reminds readers that his parents didn’t hug him enough as a child, his psychotherapist stepmother Lorraine decides to send Oliver to live with one of her patients for the summer. She believes that Oliver and said patient, Vance Briggs, will help one another grow, as the teen is still recovering from the fact that his mother killed herself when he was 5, and investigative journalist Vance is grieving the suicide of his wife and the loss of his son, Alex, in a car accident. So Oliver goes to Venice, California, to meet the weed-smoking, light-beer–swilling Vance.Things get off to a murky start, as Oliver is threatened by an infamous Venice boardwalk vagrant and bats away a beautiful woman like a fly. Then Vance reveals that he thinks that his wife and Oliver’s mother were actually killed by others. This could simply be a whacked-out hunch, but then the two uncover a few clues, even as Oliver remains doubtful. Spencer is a former writer and producer of TV sitcoms such as 227 and Valerie, but his novel is cinematic—even sprawling. As a character, Oliver toes a curious line between Holden Caulfield and Philip Marlowe, but he’s leagues less likable than both. He’s articulate but piggishly sexist and full of contradictions; for example, he simultaneously possesses aggressive intolerance for Republicans and curiously hostile opinions regarding immigration. Halfway through, readers may question why they’ve agreed to follow this detestable boy’s journey—but they’ll undoubtedly finish it, as the story itself remains entertaining throughout.
A page-turning mystery with a frustrating protagonist from a veteran storyteller.