Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author.
It’s the Roaring 20s in Hollywood. A murder that is made to look like a suicide. A long con involving talking movies. Matthew Hudson, rumrunner to the stars and friend to the victim, will stop at nothing to find out who killed Danny, to protect his bootlegging business, and to produce talking movies.
The conflict is set up well enough: the novel begins with Danny’s slow descent into the Pacific, in a car he can’t escape.
Seawater filled his lungs. He hoped he hadn’t talked. If he’d told them where he’d hidden the money that might get Hud involved but with him being killed, Hud was going to get involved anyway. His last thought was why did it have to be rye.
Hud (short for Hudson) quickly figures out it’s a murder rather than a suicide, and begins investigating when the police decides to close the case.
A criminal investigating other criminals and doling out his own kind of justice–that’s Hud’s story. There are Chinese gangs and Italian gangs moving out of Chicago, and movie stars and important studios and yes, Hollywood starlets and femmes fatales.
The story was interesting enough, despite the fact that it’s more a thriller than a mystery (we learn very quickly who’s responsible for the murder). The characters are decently developed, despite finding Hud a bit bland at times. He doesn’t seem to have much internal conflict–he’s driven by his desire to make talking movies. This character has so much space to have moral conflict–he’s a bootlegger, hangs around criminal circles, but he wants to start a legitimate business. I’d like to see his internal life developed beyond the desire for revenge and I’d like to know more about his moral life.
I have two major issues with this book: the excessive exposition and the sometimes confusing head-hopping in action scenes.
This is a historical novel, and sometimes some background is interesting, but most of what was in Play Him Again was unnecessary to the story. Let me give you an example. At one point, Hud starts thinking about the new technology that’s been invented to add sound to movies–either recorded on film or on wax discs. This passage is quite a few pages long, and it basically describes in historically accurate detail the invention, development and deployment of these technologies. Interesting? Sure, if you’re in to the history of cinema. Useful for the story? Not really, not in so much detail. The book could definitely have been tightened by cutting off those bits and giving just the essential details, in context and not in summary and exposition. I want to read a story, not a history.
My second problem can be illustrated by a short passage. In this scene, Ike and Simms, two criminals from a rival gang, are following Hud and his girlfriend, Sylvia, to a restaurant out of town.
“Yeah,” Ike said, “it’s perfect. Stay back until we cross the bridge. We’ll take him on the other side.”
Rivera was a small town nestled between the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel rivers surrounded by thousands of acres of citrus, avocado, and walnut groves.
“You better not be taking me to some overblown avocado stand for dinner,” Hud said, “I’m hungry. Are you sure there’s even a restaurant in Rivera?”
In this scene, we jump from Ike and Simms to Hud and Sylvia without warning and without a textual mark like a full-line break. I think the effect was meant to make the scene more action-driven, but all it did was confuse me. And it happens quite a few times throughout the book. You end up not being sure who’s doing what, and there’s nothing worse to kill the pace of an action scene.
And this is where I’m going to start praising the virtues of a professional editor, even for self-published books. This story has potential, but it is in need of serious, professional fiction editing, not only at the structural and character levels, but also at the proofreading level. There are countless errors of your/you’re, its/it’s and others, things that are easily dealt with with a little care and a professional proofreader.
The author obviously cares about his book and his story; I would like him to show even more by taking the time to work through some of the issues I’ve mentioned. This would make a decent read move up to the “good” and even “great” level. But for now, these unfortunate problems really mar the effect of the book. An action-driven story should not be slowed down by endless exposition and confusing POV-hopping.
If the era interests you, I’d say give it a go. If you’re into quick-moving mystery or thrillers, give it a pass or wait up for future Hud mysteries, which hopefully will have eliminated, or at least diminished, these weaknesses.You've just read READ: Play Him Again by Jeffrey Stone on Read, Write, Live by Anabelle. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!