Book Report: Play It Again by Stephen Humphrey Bogart (1995)

I bought this book 1) because it was at a book fair for a buck and 2) because it was written by Humphrey Bogart’s son. I wasn’t 100% sure when I saw the book at the book fair, but come on, the book’s named after a famous misquote from Casablanca and the guy made sure his middle name was in it. He ain’t Joe Hill here, hiding out and trying to make it on his own.

So this book follows the story of a private eye in NYC named R.J. Brooks, the son of an actor and an actress (write what you know! Hey, Margaret Truman made a good living at this sort of thing) who rarely sees his mother and avoids her mostly when she is in New York because she didn’t pay him much attention when she was a child. When his mother is murdered, Brooks can choose between self-pity and finding her killer–and something about her in the process.

The book is an interesting, weird blend. It hearkens back to old school pulp detective stories with spots of brutality for its own sake, but in our own date and time this really isn’t appropriate (says a fellow whose first novel–unpublished–is full of the same). There’s the attempt at emotional stuff as the private eye works through his feelings for his mother (I can relate–as you remember, gentle reader whose name is ‘Charles’ and represents my only long-term reader–my own mother passed away just over a year ago.

But the story doesn’t really move forward much on the detective’s initiative. The resolution of the main plot line is driven by the italicized-text bad guy, whose thoughts pop in from time to time to remind us of what’s at stake. Finally, when the time and wordcount is right, the bad guy kidnaps the love interest and streetwise sidekick, ties them up in the dead actress’s bedroom, and awaits Brooks. Then, in a laughable climax, the bad guy picadors Brooks and holds him at bay with a fencing foil with a sharpened point. To make it dramatic, the bad guy gives Brooks a toy sword to defend himself. In a room full of furniture, Brooks tries to defend himself from a death of a hundred little pricks. Come on. If I think I would do better than the hero in a climax, it really takes one out of the moment.

I mean, it’s not that bad of a book. Most of your pulp boils down that way. Because it’s a sort-of semi-biographical imagining that mixes the old and a new in a not entirely convincing fashion, it’s…. not a particularly good book, either.

Books mentioned in this review:

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