Along with the built-in worldwide adoration, actors during Hollywood’s Golden Years apparently had immediate and abundant access to booze, drugs, and illicit women, all of which was enjoyed at a premium. Woe, however, to the john caught, for if the studio’s fixer couldn’t provide an out, the mob would, particularly with a bullet, knife, and/or noose. At, least this is all hypothetical according to Guy Bolton and his debut crime noir novel, The Pictures, which is a piece of fiction. Right?
Bolton gives credit to Hammett, Cain, and Chandler in the book’s acknowledgments, and rightly so, as his writing style is a perfect complement to that powerhouse triumvirate of hard boiled fiction. Bolton takes that inspiration and presents a tale of yesteryear that is startling fresh as he plays with the many contradictions LA has to offer. The bright lights and dark streets. Movie magic and seedy deals. Fast, loud action and slow, strangling death. The pre-war hip vibe of the haves, and the sweltering soup lines for the have-nots.
Set in 1939 during the production of The Wizard Of Oz, Hollywood detective Jonathan Craine, the LAPD’s “fixer” for keeping the studios’, especially MGM’s, talent in line, and rookie detective Patrick O’Neill are assigned to the seemingly unrelated deaths of one of the film’s producers, as well as that of a model. Craine is a stalwart, loner of a cop, who would much rather sign off on case then performing an in-depth investigation. MGM helps support Craine’s lifestyle – his evenings to the top clubs, his fast car, and, oh yeah, his dead actress wife – and wants the case closed with zero publicity. O’Neill, however, is eager to make his mark with all eyes dotted and tees slashed. And if that doesn’t bring to surface a smooth homage of Elroy’s LA Confidential, then The Pictures is not the genre read for you. But it should be.
Bolton provides a read that feels like an MGM production complete with an incredibly-easy imagining of Bogie in the role of Craine, or, for a more modern interpretation, Kevin Spacey, with Guy Pierce in for O’Neill. Within The Pictures, whiskey is always single-malt, Chesterfields are inhaled everywhere by everyone, and murder is still the ultimate taboo. The constant is that crime does not pay. Might get the occasional comp, possibly a long-ish holiday, but if Cain, and ultimately Bolton, taught us anything is that the postman always rings twice. For The Pictures, that happens to Jonathan Craine. Hollywood is his beat. He carries a badge. And we are along for the ride.