Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.
This week I’d like to revisit Hollywood Shakedown by multi genre author Mark Barry. This is his debut novel written in 2009, and a 5* read for me.
Buddy Chinn, the son of a lauded beat poet from the seventies, is happy to follow the dishonourable family tradition of booze, bets, books and broads. Then, at Hollywood Park one winter Saturday afternoon, two tough guys persuade him to join them on a trip to Damascus, a sprawling mansion off Mulholland Drive, a palace surrounded by a forest of imported trees and lush vegetation.There, he meets Mortimer Saxon, a, reclusive obsessive manuscript collector with an edge. A sharp suited zealot searching for Buddy’s dad’s fabled Lost Manuscript; a one-off, a unique piece worth thousands and thousands of dollars, an American literary icon similar in cult magnitude to Hunter S Thompson’s “Call to the Post.” He asks Buddy whether he can help. Buddy hasn’t a clue. Not a scooby. Trouble is, Mortimer doesn’t believe him. Over the finest steak dinner Buddy has ever eaten, the collector makes him a proposition.
Buddy Chinn loves three things; betting on the horses, alcohol and his unreliable girlfriend, Monique. He’s an erstwhile writer, although nowhere near his famous father’s league, and would easily make a good living, if he could be bothered. Thirty eight years old and nothing much to show for it, he’s content to let life pass him by. Until one day at Hollywood Park he’s approach by two hoodlums who take him to meet Mortimer Saxon, a fanatical collector of the work of American writers.
After being transported to a mock Tudor mansion and given an incredible dining experience, Saxon issues Buddy with a challenge. A challenge with an underlying threat. Saxon wants Buddy’s father’s unpublished work, particularly a manuscript and letters between Henry Chinn and Robert Fishbein, a great chess player from the 1970s. Buddy has two weeks to find the items for Saxon and dependent on the outcome, Buddy will either be $100,000 richer or have a much closer, and very unpleasant, acquaintance with Saxon’s heavies, Ramirez and Bishop. Buddy hasn’t a clue where to start so he enlists the help of Simon Harris, a comic collector and British ex-pat.
Simon took a long deep drink of his beer and put the empty glass to one side as if satisfied. He put his hands together so they resembled a church steeple. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “If it lives, we can find it. I can deal with the website stuff, and I know a couple of fellas who might be able to help, one local. So, what’s the payoff? You say…a hundred large?’ “One hundred thousand dollars for the manuscript,” Buddy reaffirmed. “There is a downside, don’t forget.”
“What might that be?”
“You might get hurt. You come in, you’re part of it. These mothers mean business.”
Buddy and Simon’s meeting with the Librarian, a collector Simon knows, sets them on a course across the Atlantic via Chicago to connect with another collector who may be able to help them. It’s the last thing Buddy wants to do and the thoughts of what his unconventional and free-spirited Monique is getting up to eat away at him. He’s right to worry.
Buddy has difficulty with relationships, caused by insecurity and lack of motivation. The absence of his father while growing up is like a scab that won’t heal and colours Buddy’s attitude to life. Human emotions are explored and laid bare, greed, love, ruthlessness, indolence, but for all its serious side, the story has lots of humour, especially when Buddy is introduced to Cockney rhyming slang, football, English pronunciation and Bovril. I completely agree with his opinion of the latter. Simon is a great foil for Buddy and they play off each other extraordinarily well, each having traits the other lacks.
Mark Barry has a terrific way with words and has created a vivid and compelling narrative. Although initially not a very appealing character Buddy is original and offbeat. I found myself absolutely rooting for him as the story progressed, appreciating his character and how the past shaped him. I loved the help he receives from the figure who has most influenced him, for better or worse, at a particularly opportune moment. Hollywood Shakedown is an extremely enjoyable, fast paced story with a wonderful cast of characters, from engaging to dark and sinister and with a totally unpredictable and memorable ending.