Friday, August 27, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis

There’s a reason fans of noir enjoy Ellis so much: his work is often bleak, brutal, and uncompromising. Over the course of his career, he’s experimented with minimalism, and Imperial Bedrooms finds him at his leanest.
In some ways this book brings Ellis full-circle, re-visiting the central characters of his first novel, Less Than Zero, some twenty-odd years ago, but to call Imperial Bedrooms a sequel isn’t quite right, as the tone and subject matter are completely different, as different as the life of a middle-aged narcissist is from the life of a vacuous twenty-something. Bedrooms is, in some ways, a crime novel, but infected with a strangely post-modern (yeah, I said post-modern) surrealism.
Clay, the self-obsessed pretty-boy of Less Than Zero, is now a self-obsessed middle-aged screenwriter recently returned to Hollywood to cast his latest film. He’s almost immediately drawn back into the sordid world of his old friends and lovers, meets a superficially gorgeous young actress who is clearly using him as much as he’s using her.
But some of his acquaintances are involved in something big and ugly and dangerous, and when Clay begins getting threatening text messages and spotting a mysterious black vehicle parked in front of his building, he begins a downward spiral of violence and paranoia. Old friends wind up dead. New friends begin acting shiftily. And Clay begins to realize that his own life could be forfeit in a game where there are no rules.
If that synopsis sounds vague, well… it is. The plot of Imperial Bedrooms doesn’t hinge on concrete events so much as gradual stumbles downward into… what? There are no real answers in this book, just as the questions themselves are only half-formed. The real story is Clay’s ever-increasing paranoia and unreliability as a narrator, back dropped against a strange and uncertain version of L.A. and populated by a cast of characters that slink through his life like sinister shadows. The lines between what’s real and imagined become increasingly thin-- hinted at in even the first chapter, when Clay tells us about the movie Less Than Zero, based only loosely on the “real events”.
Imperial Bedrooms is an uneasy book, and Ellis is his usual fearless self. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mulholland Books

So you probably already heard about the new crime imprint from Little, Brown, Mulholland Books. Here's the website:
Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Huston, Lawrence Block... those are some of the first names to have books out on the new imprint. Come on, man, admit it, that absolutely rocks. Here's to a long life for Mulholland Books!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ego-busting critique

Finished the latest round of re-writes on City of Heretics last night. See, I thought I was done with it until my good friend Christian did a detailed critique that revealed all the problems with the manuscript... and fuck me, there were LOTS of them.
The hard part was, I was expecting him to return the manuscript full of comments like 'Oh my god, you're some kind of genius, Heath! You're the greatest writer in the world and I'm not worthy to read your work!'
Eh, it didn't work out quite that way...
Here's the funny thing: Christian doesnt' even write this kinda stuff; he's a fantasy writer... (a damn good one, though; he just secured a big name agent and things are looking good for his book)... my point being, he's only passingly familiar with the conventions of the noir thriller.
And yet, his analysis was right on the money. There were long bits in City of Heretics that needed trimming, there were misplaced info dumps, there was boring charater stuff and scenes that went nowhere. Christian had red ink all over the damn place.
I wound up using about 95% of his suggestions. Some of them I had to think long and hard about but in the end I had to admit he was right.
So thanks, Christian, you literary hard-ass, for making City of Heretics a better book.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Remains, by Vincent Zandri

As young girls, Rebecca and her sister Molly lived through a nightmare abduction, held captive by a madman for three agonizing hours. They only barely escaped. For thirty years they kept this to themselves, a secret bond between sisters, until Molly died of cancer. Now, Rebecca carries the burden by herself.
But the nightmare isn’t over. When she begins getting threatening texts and messages, Rebecca learns that the madman who tormented her and her sister is free, and looking to clear up unfinished business.
The Remains is another fast-paced thriller from Zandri, but remarkable in that it’s told mostly from a female perspective. I’ve gotten accustomed to the sensitive tough guys that usually populate Zandri’s books, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him work so convincingly around a woman protagonist. Rebecca is a great character, fully formed and believable, and as the tension mounts and the story hurtles head-long toward a stunning climax, you’re with her one-hundred percent.
The villain in The Remains is chilling and Zandri ratchets up the suspense like the old pro he is. I’d like to see him experiment even more with these remarkable new points of view.