Saturday, April 04, 2009

LOSER'S TOWN by Daniel Depp

Simon And Shuster, March 2009, 9781847374073

Ex-stuntman turned PI David Spandau knows the truth about tinsel-town, understands the egos and deceptions that make up the factory of dreams. So when he's asked to protect a new hot star who's got himself in a world of bother with local mobsters, he's under no illusions about the kind of trouble he's getting into.

But Hollywood is the kind of place that eats up your expectations and spits them out on the sidewalk. And while Spandau can deal with Hollywood, is he really ready to take on the mob?

Depp's debut is peppered with the kind of punchy dialogue you would expect from a screen writer and the kind of scarbarous attacks on the world of Holly-weird that comes from years of being an industry insider.

However, all this lifting off the lid of tinsel-town is nothing we haven't seen before. From insecure stars who want to be famous more than they want to be good at their craft to cynical agents who won't talk to anyone they don't know to be important to the criminals who want an "in" to the dream factory... Loser's Town reads like a laundry list of other books. Spandau himself could have walked right of an Elmore Leonard novel. He's got the right kind of background and the kind of shady heroism that Leonard's heroes do so well. And our mobster wanting a piece of the action, he's grand, but no Ray Barboni; nothing to lift him up and let him stay in our conscious. The background characters - from the self-involved agent to the young movie star who's psychologically unprepared for the stratospheric level of fame that he's been thrust into - are all interesting enough, but could easily have come direct from central casting.

All This Holly-weird stuff has been covered many times in films such as What Just Happened? and of course in novels such as Rob Long's Set Up, Joke, Set Up, Joke. or in a more direct parallel, Steven Bochco's novel, Death by Hollywood which shares many of this novel's pros and cons leaving the reader to wonder whether its something in the way that working in the movie and TV business that makes you see the world a certain way. And while there's no denying that Depp does a great job of setting up his world, he's really not giving us much that we haven't seen before.

Which is a great pity, because Depp's natural prose style and ability to create empathy with his characters, even those we have seen before is perfectly evident. Depp appears to be a talented writer but the sheer deja-vu of Loser's Town robs it of any real power.

Perhaps, of course, the familiarity of Depp's situations and characters is also part of the point; Hollywood is a town where the familiar masquerades as the innovative, where the people are so sheltered that they do not know anything beyond the world of La-La land.

Loser's Town is a fun read, but is unfortunately not a book that's really going to stay with you any length of time. Its a well written thriller that shows promise for Depp's future as a novelist, but to really grab our attention next time out he's going to need to give us something we haven't seen before.

Russel D McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, 19/04/09