Beat The Devils by Josh Weiss

Set in an alternate late 50’s Hollywood, Joseph McCarthy has been made president of a Far Right government after rooting out the alleged Communists in his HUAC witch hunt, and the major studios pump out propaganda. Baker is a Holocaust survivor turned detective who is pulled off the case of a double homicide by McCarthyist government goons, but finds he can’t let the case go when his name is found on a slip of paper in one of the dead men’s hands.

This is a bit of a different review for me to write. Usually when I don’t like a book, I can still see where the author has done good work, or see that it will please it’s target audience. Sometimes not liking a book is just taste and preference. Rarely is a book truly bad, because it goes through a whole process of rewriting, editing and being submitted and picked by a major publisher.

This book isn’t good. It’s first few chapters and the opening premise are fine. I have to wonder if these parts were written by the author at a workshop or something, where someone was guiding the author. It doesn’t get far in before it becomes cartoonish and ridiculous. But not in a funny or entertaining way. The female characters read like some kind of creepy fan fiction, with the main character leching on them all, and all of them fighting and falling over each other to get his attention. It’s very uncomfortable. All female characters are one note, vapid, very attractive and helpless. And one of them is Elizabeth Short, which felt unethical to me in some way. (She’s been through enough, leave the poor woman out of your weird fantasies) This is made more uncomfortable by the fact that the main character is described as being pretty gross. He doesn’t shower, he coughs up phlegm before going in for a kiss, he drinks chronically, has fits and black outs … No ones real world dream date. In this story, Bogart is pro-Huac, which also felt a bit unkind to me. (I always thought he and his friends were really brave to stand up to McCarthy, under the circumstances, but I digress) Finally, it’s badly written. Things that should have been picked up on have not been edited, like the word Machiavellian being used to describe something that is the opposite of Machiavellian. Characters are talking business when they are interrupted by a third character suggesting they get down to business. The name Griffith J Griffith is called the most unfortunate name in history, but as names go, it’s pretty normal. This is never explained. The film noir references get heavy handed and annoying quite quickly. If any of this was done in some intentional way, it could have had Lynch or Twin Peaks vibes, but it isn’t. It’s also broken into parts, Part 1, Part 2, etc, but there’s not temporal or thematic change between the parts. So, they’re just there. Signifying nothing.

This book is not worth your time.

Thank you to HBG Canada for the copy of this book for review.