The famous writer proves an elusive quarry in Malmont’s second (The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, 2006), a meandering fact/fiction hybrid about London’s last year of life.
At first the focus is on the far less well-known Hobart Bosworth, star of silent films and a studio owner, who’s made several movies out of London’s novels. Once Hobart and Jack were kindred spirits, but now, in 1915, Jack has ostracized the director after a squabble over money. So Hobart is a man on a mission: to patch things up, have Jack write an original screenplay and save his studio. He travels to Jack’s ranch in Northern California only to find his new house burnt to the ground (arson is suspected). The writer has moved on to Paradise, his name for Hawaii, and Hobart follows him. So far so good, but here the focus becomes diffuse as the viewpoint switches to Charmian, Jack’s second wife, protective and passionate. We meet Jack returning from surfing with a group of Hawaiian beach bums. It’s unlike Jack, who’s racked by pain (kidney problems). There, Jack the showman can’t resist staging an oceanfront boxing match with Hobart, a hokey scene which ends with the men reconciling in the surf, a warm-up for Jack’s spectacular, life-threatening jump from a high rock. As he explains to his confidant, Professor Homer, whose expertise is Hawaiian mythology, his head was full of Hawaiian history and Norse legends. Jack’s talks with the Professor, the heart of the novel, fail to shed much light on the writer’s tortured psyche; it’s his stunts that are memorable. For the rest, Malmont gives us colorful episodes (a psychedelic trip that Jack and Charmian take is pure ’60s) and bed-hopping between the principals. Teasingly, Jack writes that screenplay for Hobart but then burns it.
A mildly entertaining but superficial treatment of this outsized writer.