I bought this book shortly after Christmas, when I took my children to ABC Books so they could spend the gift cards I bought for them the week before Christmas. Honestly, it’s an inefficient system if you think its purpose is to get gifts for my children. If you realize it is instead a system for getting me to ABC Books as often as possible so I can pick up one or two or five books each trip, you’ll see its genius.
At any rate, this Donald E. Westlake novel was in the Missouri section as it takes place in Branson. Since I was going to a near-Branson location this weekend, I picked it up.
It was not a very quick read. Unlike a plot-driven book like, say, a Parker novel (not Robert B. Parker, but a Richard Stark Parker book a la Lemons Never Lie). Instead, it focuses on a number of characters with their points of view intersecting on an event.
This event is the murder trial of a country and western star, Roy Jones, with his own Branson theater. He stands accused of the murder of one of his theater’s young lady employees amid other problems, including negotiations with the IRS to recover some owed back taxes numbering in the millions. The media descends upon Branson, including an intrepid reporter for a New York weekly and her lover/editor and former co-workers of theirs at a Florida-based tabloid. The tabloid reporters will stoop to great lows to uncover dirt on Jones, and the editor from the New York weekly wants to do a story on the depravity of the tabloid. His replacement at the tabloid is a nervous, high strung man with a wife and kids he’s not fond of, and he has the closest thing to scruples of anyone at the tabloid.
Jones himself picks the woman reporter to spend time with his entourage and get the inside view of the defense and trial, but he’s playing his own game, as the reporter will learn.
As I said, it’s more a study of these characters and their interplay than a plot-driven piece–as many subplots play out with almost equal weight. Instead, the focus is on the characters. The telling and brushing of them is humorous and slightly askew–less than you get in Hiaasen and Barry, but still not straight on and serious.
It’s a sequel of sorts to an earlier book with the same main characters (and a different event), but it does not depend upon familiarity with the earlier events nor does it really nod to them. It is contained in its own right.
The characterization of Branson is pretty good; although 20 years have passed since the books publication, the vibe of Branson is correct. Although some of the characters look down on the people who come to Branson, the intrepid reporter main character comes to see us sympathetically, so it’s not condescending.
It’s a fun book, and I should probably pick up some more Westlake elsewhere when I can.