Jay Russell may be America's best-kept secret. I blame myself for this. And you, of course. If you and I had bothered to read his work, he might be a lot more famous. Instead, he ran off to the UK and rests in relative obscurity.
Shame on you.
Russell is the author of a short series of books featuring Marty Burns, former child TV star and washed-up private eye. In "Celestial Dogs", Marty is introduced as a likeable drunk, a not-too-terribly sharp detective and a Hollywood namedropper par excellence. Every page is filled with so much LA lore you'd think the author spends his days on a studio backlot with a tape recorder running.
"Dogs" starts off like your ordinary LA potboiler. Witty, wisecracking and jaded PI is hired to locate a stripper for a local pimp. During his investigation, PI is lied to, beaten up, misled and has his body taken over by a demon from Japanese mythology.
You heard me. This ain't Elvis Cole we're talkin' about.
It turns out that the myths are truth and that one particularly bad-bootied demon has already joined the guest list at Spago. Marty and his new girlfriend Rosa find themselves in the middle of this dreamworld trying to protect themselves and the people they care about from things they can barely comprehend.
Jay Russell does wisecracks like nobody's business. His writing is deceptively easy and fluid, making "Celestial Dogs" speed past like a Ferrari, but Russell manages to tell a darned good story. I bought this book because I had read the author's "Brown Harvest" and liked it, but the Marty Burns tales quickly rose to the top of my favorite detective stories list.
If you are put off by a supernatural element in your mysteries, "Celestial Dogs" might not be for you, but if you enjoy a little macabre with your mayhem, you'll love it.
Jay Russell deserves to be more than a well-kept secret.