When confronted by a rampaging comic genius, what’s a studio publicity fella to do?
Review by Erastes
I believe this book was out once with Torquere, but lucky you lot, if you didn’t manage to get hold of an ecopy back then (it was published in 2005 I think) there’s a free version on Parhelion’s website, together with the other books in the series which I’ll be reviewing at some point.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a bit of a fangirl of Parhelion’s. I have no idea who he or she is, and I don’t really care. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that it is an alter ego Whoever they are they can write and that’s all that matters.
Parhelion has a knack of immediately–immediately–being able to drop the reader into whatever period that’s being written about, and Parhelion writes quite a wide stripe of time eras, although mostly in the 20th century, which is rather neglected, so that’s wonderful.
In this instance we are in the early days of the Talkies, around 1926 ish and the scene is set for us immediately with no need for tub-thumping back story:
“Two, please. Ah, how charming.” Sidney Beck smiled as he checked his new cards. It did not mean much. He had beamed at everything he had been dealt all evening. His large hands fanned his cards shut before he shoved more chips and markers into the pile in the center of the fancy mahogany table. Across the green baize from him, my Cousin Vincent took a long puff from his stogie and tried to look indifferent. The other poker players seated in the private room in the back of Vincent’s nightclub fell silent, waiting for him to make his move.
A fella who had already folded, a character who owned a couple of Southern California department stores, snapped his fingers for me to get him a refill on his drink. While I poured him the house’s best substitute for rye at the private bar in the corner of the room, he gave me a smirk that I did not like. I came back over to the poker table and stood by his chair, offering him nothing but a cold eye. Not until the smirk slipped off his plate did I hand over his hooch. Just because I was the stake for this hand of cards was no reason for me to take such guff.
I was used for a white chip back in 1925 after my oldest brother Frankie had shipped me out west to live with Cousin Vincent, the owner of three social clubs around Southern California. Back home, our family firm was having a small misunderstanding with the Garibaldi Medical Supply Company and my mother had put her foot down. She was still sore that I had gone to work juggling figures and guarding tank trucks doing delivery runs around Broadway rather than finishing senior seminary, even though I did not have a vocation and was already real tired of the Jesuits.
I knew better than to explain that to Ma. I was the baby of a family of six and had learned the hard way not to tell anybody anything. You can bet I was not going to talk to Frankie about how hot I was to blow town and why. So, even though I had heard that my cousin Vincent was both a sanemagogna and a loffari, I just kept quiet and climbed onto the train.
I love Angelo’s voice, it has real echoes of Runyonese, a lovely mixture of slang and over-formal words with few contractions. In stark contrast to Angelo, we have Sid who speaks just like you would imagine a thespian to speak, over-blown, blousy and full of literary allusions. When they do have a conversation it’s utterly delightful.
Don’t expect a traditional romance, in fact as endings go, it’s not a “romance” at all, but more realistic than that. It’s more a coming-out story, a bromance layered with many issues and Catholic guilt. Parhelion has a gift, like Renault, for putting a lot of story into things that aren’t really said, or are only hinted at, and when it comes to men talking–especially hard-boiled men like Angelo–that works perfectly.
If I had any issues with the book it was a little rushed and a little muddled. The characters have to solve a dilemma and that’s needed because it forces them into each other’s company for a length of time, but there’s almost a touch of slapstick and farce about it (entirely deliberate I’m sure, seeing as how when and where it’s set) but still, I found the almost Keystone Cops speed of how things went as they rushed around Los Angeles to be a be dizzying and confusing.
But overall, it’s well worth a read, and even better it’s free!