Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bloodthirsty by Marshall Karp (4/5)

Ah Hollywood, L.A.'s glitzier, fluffier cousin.  The birthplace of Noir lies down street a little ways, but Tinsel Town has more than its fair share of darkness and depravity.  It's the land of glamour and flashbulbs and shattered dreams.  Beneath the gilded exterior she's as rotten and festering as a third world whore.  So is it any wonder that it was the setting for one of the most entertaining mysteries I've read this year?  The book is Blood Thirsty by Marshall Karp.  It's number two in a series of four (so far at least), and I got to tell you:  I'm already craving the next installment like a junkie after his next fix. 

The main characters of the series are Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, a couple of detectives in the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles police department.  Mike is the straight man.  The story is told from his perspective... mostly.  He's hard and gruff and jaded.  Terry is just as hard and jaded as Mike, but he also packs an arsenal of jokes that would make Dave Chappelle jealous.  Together they make for one of the most entertaining detective partnerships I've seen in a long time.

This installment of The Lomax and Biggs Detective Duo Extravaganza picks up where the last book, The Rabbit Factory, left off.  Still basking in the glow of their success with the Family Land murders, our intrepid detectives are approached by a bigshot producer/director wanting to purchase for the rights to make the Family Land story into a movie.  Money changes hands, and the detectives are invited to a Hollywood premier to meet a producer named Barry Gerber who might be bankrolling their movie.  They go, along with their significant others and Mike's loud-mouthed father, Big Jim Lomax, and everyone has a smashing good time.  Everyone except for their bigshot producer.  He never makes it to the premier and is found exsanguinated and stuffed in a trash can in Beverly Hills.  And wouldn't you know it?  Lomax and Biggs just happen to catch the case.  But before they can get a good handle on who they're dealing with, another Hollywood bigshot turns up exsanguinated and stuffed into a port-o-potty--this time an actor named Damien Hedge. 

There are too many pieces to the puzzle to enumerate them all here, but take my word for it when I say Karp does an admirable job of stringing the reader along.  Midway through the book the detectives learn that their quarry is a husband and wife from Podunk, Texas.  Their only daughter wound up on the wrong side of a knife and bled to death in a gutter, all because the A-list stars needed their blow.  It turns out that Mama and Daddy didn't take kindly to that, so they decided that SoCal was in need of a little Texas-style justice.  After this revelation, our detectives rush off to save the next scum-sucker on the Lone Star hit list, and things go predictably askew. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending.  The only reason I mentioned the murderers' names and back story was because Karp punctuates his narrative with chapters from the parents' point of view, so it can't really be a spoiler, now can it?  I don't usually like that kind of structure in a novel, though.  It seems like a cop-out to some extent, and it takes away much of the fun of a whodunnit story if you tell me right of the bat who the murderer is.  That being said, in this instance it didn't at all ruin my enjoyment of the book.  If anything, that is the biggest testament to Karp's skill as a storyteller.  He's also a damn funny guy.  The one-liners and jokes that flew between Lomax and Biggs made me laugh out loud a couple of times, which is no mean feat in itself, I'll tell you.  But the thing that I liked most about the novel, the thing that got me all tingly inside during the reading of it, was the language.  Yeah, the dialogue is smoking too, but Karp's prose is as sharp and biting as a razor's edge.  Karp has a flare for hardboiled imagery that makes me go squishy inside.  I eat it up.  It's the kind of thing I long for in a book--not only a good story, but creative language and inventive style.  What can I say?  I'm a literature geek at heart.  It's my bag. 

I'd be hard pressed to come up with a negative side to the book.  But if someone put a gun to my head and made me, I'd have to say that Karp tries a little too hard to make the murderers sympathetic.  And they are sympathetic, no doubt.  If someone killed my little boy and got away Scot free I'd contemplate similar measures.  I just didn't feel that sorry for the girl.  She made a choice to get involved with all that Hollywood crap, and she paid the price.  Yeah, it wasn't fair, but little in this world is.  Call me a hard-hearted existentialist.

But after reading Bloodthirsty, I do have one nagging question.  How exactly should we classify it?  You could say it's Neo-Noir.  It's certainly fits the theme, what with all the human darkness and the lack of sentimentality.  It's not JamesElroy dark, nor does it need to be in order to be Neo-Noir, but there's a note of redemption in the plot that does not belong in Noir.  So that's not it.  And it isn't a police procedural, either.  You can tell Karp has done his homework on law enforcement tactics, but there are some aspects to the tale that are more sensational that realistic.  So that's out.  One of the biggest things I liked about the book was the hardboiled language, but the story itself isn't totally hardboiled.  There's no Dirty Harry-style vigilante justice (on the part of the detectives, at least), and the story ends too nicely for it to be completely hardboiled.  I dunno.  Maybe it's all three.  Maybe it's none of the three.  Or maybe I need to quit trying to put everything in a neat little box. 

Whatever other labels may apply, Blood Thirsty is at its core a Mystery, and an excellent one at that.  It was a thrilling ride I blasted through in just a couple of days, and I'm already salivating for the next installment.  In the end, that's all that matters.


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