The sexy publicity girl Jade tells book reviewer Ray Saint that she has an idea for making a lot of money – to choose a really rotten writer from the slush pile at the publishers where she works and market him into fame and fortune.
‘You want to market some patsy all the way to the top?’
‘I want to try.’
‘Of course, he’d have to be no good at all.’
‘Exactly. Because that way it’d all be me.’
‘An Ern Malley for the age of spin.’
‘You think it’d work?’ Her eyes flashed wickedly.
‘I know it would. They’re doing it already. The industry thrives on overhyped shit.’
David Free is playing a trick, too. Not the same one – he’s very far from a lousy writer. But he’s taking the mickey – in this case the Mickey Spillane, with a touch of Raymond Chandler thrown in. It’s not surprising that David Free, who’s a book reviewer himself, with a jaundiced view of the industry, enjoys going right out on a limb with a central character, Ray Saint, who’s not only a monumental alcoholic and addicted to painkillers, but who manages to survive brutal assaults from bad guys and hand out a fair bit of violence himself in spite of the fact that he’s suffered from intractable pain since a childhood accident:
Thirty years later, the thumped gong of my body is still shivering. The nerves along my spine still scream as if they got crushed yesterday.
You might say that Ray’s the full catastrophe, with bells on. Did I mention that he’s a failed novelist too, with high literary standards that have no place in modern publishing?
Sexy girls and violence aren’t the only similarity. After all, Spillane shrugged off criticism of his works with, “You can sell a lot more peanuts than caviar,” and “The literary world is made up of second rate writers writing about other second rate writers.” These are exactly the views of Ray Saint.
Some characters in the book – the literary editor Ray reviews for, and a successful author with a criminal past – I was pretty sure I recognised from the Australian literary world, and insiders would probably recognise more. I certainly did recognise the general outlines of some popular Australian novels. So it’s an enjoyable roman-à-clef, a nice satire of the publishing and media industry, and a pretty good thriller. Sexy Jade is murdered, Ray is in the frame, and the problem is, given his drink and drug problem, he can’t quite remember what happened between them on the night she died.
And Raymond Chandler?
He said nothing and I didn’t like the way he said it.
She wore jeans and a V-neck jumper the colour of charcoal. A lot went on inside it when she moved …. She moved without scruple, as if things generally went her way. When you looked like that they probably did.
Unlike Jade’s patsy, David Free is clever, self-knowing and blackly funny. I don’t think I ever want to see Ray Saint again, but I did enjoy meeting him.