I've got a love hate relation ship with this book. I must admit that it was an impulse buy-a 99¢ special with a cool cover sitting near the checkout at a Border's outlet. I figured, what the hell.
While there seem to be raves about the premise of the protagonist, Jim Thompson, writing a story in which he, in reality, is becoming a character. The technique is really not worth the hype, nor is it particularly groundbreaking like, say "House of Leaves" by Mark Danielewski. That gripe aside, what we do have here is a refreshing, intriguing story that, if nothing else has a convincing tone that made want to keep turning pages.
While I'm not too well read in the hard-boiled genre, this is a book that might make me want to dig deeper. Set in 1950s Hollywood, Stansberry gives us a look at the grime beneath the glitz: the hookers and alcoholics, the invalids and crazies. If it were a movie, Quentin Tarantino would be behind the camera and Harvey Keitel would be starring lead, carrying a pocketful of pimp swagger left over from Taxi Driver.
To the story, Jamesy!
Thompson is asked, by Billy Miracle to write a script for a movie that Miracle is shopping. Miracle is in debt up to his forked-tongue in people who wouldn't hesitate to break his legs. The alcoholic Thompson accepts the offer and gets the lead line from Miracle. As Miracle gives him direction, Thompson starts to realize that events happening around him (murders, cover-ups, and mistaken identities) are running parallel to the story Miracle is feeding him. Before too long, Thompson sees where things are going, but it might just be too late. (Cue the spooky string music here).
In a seemingly simple turn of events, we reach the climax of the book. On page 162 of my copy, Miracle explains everything. From a technique perspective, the whole thing is a total mess. One full page of monologue reads like a list of he said/she said drivel. Rather than trusting the reader to figure out what was going down-which would have taken just a little bit more effort on the author's part-we get a summation that leaves us confused rather than shocked. It was shortcut that could've (and should've) been avoided. Since the book tips the scales at 184 pages, there is plenty of room for more development.
That said, rare is the book these days that makes me want to park my posterior at the controls and mash the keyboard all day. Stansberry's mysterious characters and convincing descriptions of Hollywood's underbelly was plenty of motivation. Ultimately, if your looking for a light read to knock off in a long afternoon, I'd say that, at 99¢, Manifesto for the Dead is money well spent.