Screenwriter Strick’s debut novel gives neo-noir treatment to a tale of corruption and red-baiting in 1940s Hollywood.
Arthur Lustig, head of Superior Pictures, is not happy that B-movie star Harley Hayden is dating Lustig’s gorgeous daughter Eleanor. The studio chief hires disgraced ex-cop Roarke to trail this upstart employee, but the flatfoot finds midwesterner Hayden as clean-cut as his appearance. The plot thickens when the actor himself hires Roarke to investigate Derek Sykes, a director who’s been giving him trouble on the set. Hayden believes Sykes is hiding something, especially after he discovers that the director is a German named Deiter Seife masquerading as an Englishman. Roarke’s investigation leads him to celebrity psychologist Dr. Jasper Ridley’s sinister “facility,” where a series of semi-slapstick encounters with the violent orderlies leads Roarke to conclude that Sykes/Seife is smuggling Nazi propaganda into the country. The director is immediately dismissed from Superior Pictures by an outraged Lustig. Hayden goes on to become a national hero and builds a career on his efforts to “cleanse” Hollywood, acquiring a few dirty secrets of his own along the way. Quintessential noir tough guy Roarke occasionally breaks character for displays of conscience that feel forced. But the atmosphere of hypocrisy and fear percolating below a glittering veneer is ably captured by an author clearly well acquainted with the vagaries of the Hollywood machine, no matter what the decade. Interesting bits of filmic lore sprinkled throughout the text don’t entirely make up for the fact that neither Strick’s exposé of Tinseltown’s nasty underbelly nor his central theme of innocence lost are exactly revelatory.
Feels almost as hollow as the showbiz world it portrays.