Monday, March 16, 2009

Looks like Johnny isn't the only talent in the Depp family

Loser's Town: A David Spandau Novel
by Daniel Depp

I guess when you're the half-brother of an A-list actor and your debut novel is an LA noir/Hollywood satire, you open the book with an author's note that starts:

They are not They.
He, She, or It, is not You.

Daniel Depp has written a sharp and stylish mystery. It opens with thugs Potts and Squiers running an errand for their boss, Ritchie Stella. Stella's a night club owner, drug dealer, organized criminal, and wanna-be motion picture producer. He's sent Potts and Squiers to remove a body from the home of newly-minted film star Bobby Dye. Just in case Bobby doesn't realize that he owes Stella big time, some highly incriminating photos are taken at the scene. Armed with these, Stella asks Bobby to star in a film he wants to produce. The script's a stinker, and if he knows anything, Bobby knows that doing Stella's film will kill his burgeoning career. He needs help.

It is at this point that we meet our protagonist, David Spandau, a private eye we've been promised to see in future novels. Spandau's a former Hollywood stuntman and a part-time rodeo performer. He wears Armani suits with cowboy boots. His philosophy: "When all else fails, just be taller." What else do you need to know about the guy? He's good at his job, still hung up on his ex, and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Spandau decides he's going to solve the Stella problem, despite being hired, fired, and quitting the job any number of times throughout the book.

There's nothing really special or unusual about the plot of the novel, and I don't know that plotting is Depp's strength. I'm torn when it comes to the characters. Spandau's entertaining enough. And Potts turned out to be a pretty interesting character. A thug with a rich internal life, he's a good guy at heart, but he does some very bad things. Then there's Terry McGuinn, an associate of Spandau's. He's five foot six, a martial arts genius, catnip for the ladies, and has an Irish brogue you could cut with a knife. I guess that's it. Depp has gone a bit overboard making all of his characters... characters. They're all so special and idiosyncratic. It's a bit much, but they really are entertaining.

Where Depp really shines is with his prose and his dialog, both of which are wonderfully witty and fun to read aloud. The banter is fast-paced and humorous, and yes, the language is salty. I find myself amazed by how many people are deeply offended by a little cussing. The irony is, even Spandau doesn't appreciate the language, repeatedly telling other characters, "I've got better things to do... than sit around and be verbally abused." Anyway, if you're easily offended, you probably won't appreciate the dialog--but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Depp's other strength is just knowing the world he's writing about. Insights into the privileges and pitfalls of fame ring true. His working knowledge of the film industry and the characters therein provide plenty of material for his satirical eye. Depp's got a fine sense of humor, but not everything in this novel is a joke, and there's a good blend of comic and more serious elements. I didn't have tremendous expectations going into this novel, but I liked it enough that I'll definitely be checking out the next in the series.

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