Sunday, April 13, 2008

Review of Shooting Star/Spiderweb

Hard Case Crime has reached back into the past and borrowed a trick from Ace paperbacks with its latest release, the double entry Shooting Star/Spiderweb by Psycho author Robert Bloch. Both novels were originally published as Ace doubles, although not together.

While Bloch is best known for his horror fiction, he wrote in many genres, including crime fiction. The pairing of these two books may offer some insight into why Bloch’s horror novels are the ones for which he is famous. Shooting Star, is a straightforward private eye story, while Spiderweb, a dark crawl through the sewers of Hollywood, which could just as easily be called horror as it could crime, and it is the superior of the two.

Shooting Star features down and our literary agent and part-time private eye Mark Clayburn who is hired to investigate the six month old murder of B movie star Dick Ryan, whose reputation was sullied by the fact that he was found dead with marijuana in his trailer. Clayburn takes the case, and there is a long list of degenerate Hollywood type suspects, but the killer’s identity is obvious almost from the beginning. Shooting Star is not a bad book, but there is nothing to distinguish it from the many other similar PI novels of the paperback era.

Spiderweb tells the story of Eddie Haines, a radio presenter from the Midwest who moves to Hollywood to make it big, only to end up working cons as phony self-help guru under the tutelage of the satanic Professor Otto von Hermann. At first Haines is grateful to have the gig, but eventually comes into conflict with the good doctor and himself, as he struggles to maintain his original identity and avoid being consumed by the false front the doctor has created for him. Unlike Shooting Star, Spiderweb is remarkable for its darkness and the complexity of his main character and the situation in which he finds himself. Bloch does a masterful job of invoking hellish imagery and creating a demonic patina on Hermann. The result is an unflattering portrait of southern California in the Fifties that shows that the more things change the more they stay the same.

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