David Grand, Author . Doubleday/Talese $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-50034-0

This new book by the author of the Howard Hughes novel Louse is a kind of postmodern thriller in which genre elements—a gritty, unnamed American city in the 1930s; sleaze and corruption galore; tough dialogue and dark secrets from the past—are laid out with such deadpan panache that they acquire a satirical edge. This is offset, however, by an almost Dostoyevskian sense of human desperation, so that the total effect is constantly unsettling. The plot is monumentally complex, beginning with the release from jail of Victor Ribe, a veteran of the First World War, who later becomes a junkie and is framed for murder. Meanwhile, an old army buddy, Freddie Stillman, now working as a shipping clerk at a munitions manufacturer, reports seeing a murder, but the body can't be found. Further complications involve skeletons in the closet of a city prosecutor running for high office, State Department efforts to thwart the shipment of arms to the Soviets, heroin trafficking, blackmail, gangster rubouts, and efforts to resist factory unionization that seem Communist-inspired. Add several hopeless love affairs, a plucky girl reporter, a cynical newspaper editor and a dying private detective, and you have a Depression-era thriller that touches every base. Grand's skill at keeping all these balls in the air and the palpable sense of menace he creates don't quite compensate, however, for the sense that the whole book is an elaborate put-on. (Mar. 5)

Forecast:Admirers of Grand's earlier book may respond to his peculiar style, but lovers of hard-boiled gangster noir will find this too opaque and cluttered. A specialized read only.

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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