A Los Angeles noir novel shows readers a side of the city that they don’t often allow themselves to see.
A rising screenwriter, a smoky bar, a beautiful blonde across the room. The classic imagery is all here, but this isn’t quite that kind of story. The action immediately cuts to years later, when Dante Lee, the screenwriter—now a jaded never-was who files entertainment/gossip blog posts under a pseudonym—finds himself in the middle of what’s clearly not his first uncomfortable sex scene. Even outside Dante’s emotional exhaustion, Hollywood is clearly in decline, particularly due to a rash of hacking—and subsequent scandals—that has both studio executives and starlets waffling between panic and the warpath. Enter the blonde from the bar, Grace Chase, who’s used the intervening four years to build a successful acting career as the face of a now-major TV franchise. Dante’s anything but eager to help Grace, but he can’t abandon her to the hackers blackmailing her with incriminating photos. To help her, he’ll have to dig into parts of his history he’d rather forget and confront the uncomfortable facts of Grace’s life—and where that leaves him. The reluctant hero is one of many well-worn noir tropes Adam (American Asshole, 2016) employs, but the author uses them well. Dante is a perfect combination of charming and difficult for this sort of tale, and Grace is pitch-perfect as his opposite number. But the glue that holds it all together is the twisting novel’s style and sense of humor. Sharp narration and situation comedy blend with the genuine threat of the hackers and Hollywood itself to keep the pages turning. And Dante offers acerbic asides frequently, demonstrating more self-awareness than most protagonists (“Beyond the city limits of Los Angeles, there’s a high risk of contracting terminal boredom. Nothing interesting ever happened from traveling that far east”). He also envisions the way scenes in his life would look in movie form. These elements give the narration a unique sense of character and at the same time reveal the one thing Dante might not want readers to know—beneath the jaundiced exterior, he still holds his dreams of the silver screen.
A wildly entertaining take on Hollywood and the slime beneath the sparkle.