Hollywood noir gets a new star

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

A MAN NAMED DOLL. By Jonathan Ames. Mulholland Books. 208 pages. $26.

For some time, the niche of mystery novel called Hollywood noir has been depleted. Not L.A., but Hollywood. The territory was once inhabited by the likes of Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters, who helped Hollywood stars out of trouble, and Moses Wine, the pot-smoking long-haired gumshoe created by Roger L. Simon. Greet the latest, and most welcome, private investigator who lives just below the HOLLYWOOD sign —Happy Doll.

Yes, that’s his real name, though his father called him “Hapless,” and he prefers to be called Hank. He’s “…six two, 190, all lean muscle from eating canned fish the way I do, and in the Navy I was a cop and in the cops I was a cop, so I know how to subdue people.”  He has a dog named George, whom he lives with “…like two old-fashioned closeted bachelors who cohabitate and don’t think the rest of the world knows we’re lovers.”  George has “…mascara-rimmed eyes that break your heart and make you fall in love simultaneously.”

He also has a friend who needs a kidney. Before he can tell him he’ll donate one of his, the guy shows up with a bullet in his stomach and a diamond in his pocket. Just more bad news for Hap, since he’s just been cut up by a bad guy he killed. What does he do? Beat up, cut up, drugged up, he follows the clues cleverly set out by the author, down many a canyon road, straight into the most claustrophobic captivity in recent mysteries.

Part III of the book takes us from the Hollywood landscape into the configurations of Hap’s mind as he is literally pinned down as a captive. Fortunately, the author, creator of the TV series Bored to Death, knows his way around a good interior dialogue. With a little help from a friend, Hap makes it out of captivity, with only part of himself gone. It’s all well-plotted, well-spoken, and will continue next year in The Wheel of Doll, with the opening nine pages addended here.


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