Sunday, September 11, 2005

Book: Blonde Lightning, by Terrill Lee Lankford (2005)

In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that Terrill Lee Lankford is a friend of this website. Further, his previous novel EARTHQUAKE WEATHER was one of my favorites of 2004, a scorching, pitiless cry from the black heart of Hollywood that read like a cross between Jim Thompson and Nathanael West.

In BLONDE LIGHTNING, he picks up the story without losing a beat. EARTHQUAKE was set in the wake of the Northridge temblor of 1994. BLONDE unfolds amidst the L.A. tectonic shift known as the O.J. Simpson trial.

Ex-creative executive Mark Hayes is running out of money and is down to his last friend in Hollywood, faded writer/director Clyde McCoy. The two team up to make a low-budget thriller, the kind of movie where the most you can hope for is that it turns out better than it needs to be.

Mark’s duties as “associate producer” are vaguely defined. Mostly, he’s charged with keeping Clyde sober and his enemies away from the set. But trouble has a habit of following these two around, and their situation quickly goes from bad to worse.

In Mark, Lankford has created a slippery, borderline amoral protagonist who’s likable in spite of himself. He has just enough self-awareness to know how much of his soul he has left to lose. BLONDE is structured along more conventional lines than EARTHQUAKE, but brings these characters full circle in a richly satisfying way.

An earlier Lankford novel, the excellent SHOOTERS, features my all-time favorite blurb. From James Ellroy, it reads in part:

“This is a blood thriller that will vibrate your vindaloo!”

I’m still not sure what a “blood thriller” is. And if my vindaloo ever vibrated, I’d seek medical attention immediately.