Out this week is a Hollywood-set mystery that puts a green spin on the weirdo obsessive detective type.
Last Looks by Howard Michael Gould introduces Charlie Waldo. He was an LA police detective before something bad (but predictable) happened, driving him to live in a tiny house in the woods in solitude. He’s decided, in order to minimize his impact on the world, that he can only own 100 things at any time. (Don’t feel too sorry for him. Those 100 things include a laptop, an iPhone, and a Kindle.)
An ex-girlfriend PI ropes him into getting involved in a celebrity case. Famous British actor slumming it on a TV show (and rotten to everyone) is a raging alcoholic. When his wife is murdered at home, he’s the obvious suspect, but the head of the studio wants to protect his cash cow and thinks bringing an infamous policeman out of retirement is an excellent distraction.
Gould knows the Hollywood setting well, since he’s a TV producer and writer. I kept thinking of Alan Rickman as the actor (although I have no idea whether that’s intentional or why I got that impression), with an overlay of the classic drunks, like Richard Burton. The scenes on his set filming were my favorites.
The book’s flaws are those typical of the genre: Waldo survives a lot more beatings and damage than a normal human could, and the women are there only as sex objects or victims. The exception is the ball-busting defense attorney, who seems to have wandered in directly from How to Get Away With Murder. But typical of things written by men of a certain age, one of the LA things that gets satirized is the fancy rich private school, complete with hot young schoolteacher.
Waldo also gets a little tiring in large quantities. Most mysteries I read through in a couple of hours in one sitting, in order to keep all the characters and clues in active memory. This one I enjoyed more over several days in smaller chunks, since his self-flagellation about sustainability, particularly as he’s trying to get around with only a bike, can be repetitive.
It’s not a solvable mystery, anyway, as few today are. It’s a crime thriller, with various showdowns and violent threats included. The appeal is the humor of the outsider wandering through the crazy LA scene.
It should surprise no one to find out that this was originally intended to be a TV series, and it’s now been optioned for film. (The publisher provided a review copy.)