Loser's Town

In Loser's Town, Daniel Depp tries to conjure up the Hollywood noir of Raymond Chandler with a mystery that is less a whodunit than it is a dark portrait of modern L.A. Depp is a film industry insider (yes, he's Johnny's brother) and tells his tale with all the gusto of a gossip columnist. His detective, David Spandau, is an ex-stuntman who has found a new niche in life as a bodyguard-cum-detective. Spandau -- described as resembling Robert Mitchum -- is something of an antique in sleek, chic Hollywood, a throwback to yesteryear's grizzled but gentlemanly gumshoes. Reeling from the recent breakup of his marriage, he's starting to feel numb "to anything good and decent in the universe." Cue the entrance of Bobby Dye, temperamental hotshot actor whose career is poised to take off?if it weren't for that pesky little matter of the dead girl in his bathroom. Dye hires Spandau to find out who's been blackmailing him, and it's not long before the ex-stuntman is tangled in a plot that involves lovelorn gangsters, neurotic agents, pouting actors, and enough movie clich‚s to choke an Oscar presenter. Loser's Town suffers from some first-novel flaws, with bumpy pacing and dialogue that comes across like a carefully scripted movie conversation -- one that tries too hard to be funny, cynical, clever, poignant, crass, and earnest. But one thing Depp does well is embrace Los Angeles in all its seamy glory: "There was a beauty still there, sometimes, beneath all the corruption, like in the face of an actress long past her prime, when the outline of an old loveliness can still be glimpsed through the desperate layers of pancake and eyeliner." Depp knows L.A. like a husband knows his wife's skin.

July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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