Once more into the rabbit hole of conspiracies-in-high-places we go, this time through a noirish farrago of mid-20th century bad craziness.
In this rowdy pastiche of hard-boiled homage and alternative history, Baker assumes the daunting challenge of moving several sets of characters through three time frames. In one story arc, set in the summer of 1960, an LA private detective is hired by a wheelchair-bound megalomaniacal billionaire to recover his kidnapped child. In another, set in the fall of 1963, a professional hit man struggles to retain some individual honor as he gets entangled in a plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. And in present-day Dallas, an investigative journalist sifts through speculations, crackpot and otherwise, linking the kidnapping and JFK’s murder. Baker’s debut novel packs riffs and motifs borrowed from myriad American crime classics along with brutal, often graphic depictions of murder and mutilation. All of which is served with a heaping, steaming plate of paranoid scenarios involving, as one character has it, “The Mafia. Big Oil. The Intelligence Community. The Military Industrial Complex.” Along with the aforementioned characters and a motley (and familiar) assortment of sultry, secretive women and dim and/or brutal cops, the storylines are chockablock with cameos from such real-life personages as Sal Mineo, Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli, Howard Hughes, JFK in flagrante delicto, and Lee Harvey Oswald. There’s little if any verisimilitude in this blend that hasn’t been handled to deeper, richer effect by Don DeLillo and James Ellroy. And the whole raging mélange culminates in a plot twist that is just a shade beyond cute. Any one of his three storylines could have made a more satisfying novel than the one Baker slaps together here like a panini.
Even with an overcooked plot, Baker’s narrative drive keeps you pressing ahead, and his style shows just enough energy and romance to make you think he could get better with this genre thing as he goes along.