Filmmaker Lankford serves up an insider's view of Hollywood in this entertaining crime drama about a producer wannabe who gets ensnarled in a murder plot. Mark Hayes has been kicking around the movie industry for more than 15 years with little to show for it. Now in his mid-30s-old for Hollywood-he toils as a creative executive, fancy talk for a "development boy, as we were called by the disrespectful," screening scripts for his hateful boss, Dexter Morton. Although he's had one huge hit, Morton is despised throughout the industry for his two-faced dealings. When he's found floating face down in his swimming pool-his "giant, hairy tarantula" of toupee clogging the filter-nobody really mourns except his now out-of-work employees. As the police drag through their investigation, Hayes decides to launch his own probe, partly out of boredom and partly because he finds himself near the top of the cops' suspect list: after all, Morton had stolen his girl and Hayes found the body. But there's no shortage of suspects; Morton left a trail of bitter screenwriters, producers and even creative executives. Lankford (Angry Moon) shows lively wit and characterizations, and he shines in skewering the practices and personalities of the film industry. Though the story falters when Lankford leaves the entertainment world and steers the action down a more predictable path of drugs and violence, this is a fast, fun read.
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In a neat twist on the ending of Nathanael West's Day of the Locust, veteran filmmaker Lankford starts his Hollywood noir with a taste of Armageddon--not West's surreal fire next time but the all-too-real L.A. earthquake of 1994. Suffering from post-quake shell shock, Mark Hayes, D-Boy (or script reader) for schlocky producer Dexter Morton, finds his career in tatters, just like his quake-damaged apartment in the Valley. Then he finds a body floating in Dexter's pool and becomes a murder suspect. Along with a motley crew of similarly dysfunctional cronies, including a washed-up writer who spouts cliches about "killing creativity for a paycheck," Mark slouches toward Armageddon or a jail cell, whichever comes first. Lankford nails the updated noir mood, and he fills the tale with juicy insider stuff about the "industry" (like the fact that nobody says the "industry" anymore). It all seems a little like old news, but that's the thing about burned-out Hollywood. West's ashes have been smoldering a long time, and Lankford does his best to fan the flames. Bill Ott
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