The seamy side of noir: Money Shot and The Ice Harvest
Christa Faust's Money Shot has everything a noir story ought to: fast pace, stripped-down prose, killing, confrontation with some of the darkest crimes humans can commit, and an ending that hits like a punch in the stomach. But it also has an ambivalent, mature attitude to cathartic violence, and a refreshingly nuanced view of the milieu its protagonist inhabits.
The milieu is the pornography trade, and the protagonist is Angel Dare, once a porn actress, now owner of an agency that supplies talent to strip clubs and porn-movie producers. Faust's view of the subject is neither moralistic nor hedonistic. There is a hierarchy: some clubs are stinking and sleazy; others are harsh, viciously competitive, but a good source of income for dancers who can fight their way to the top. As narrator, Angel Dare meets women and men scarred by drugs and cosmetic surgery, but she also recalls good times and good, generous people.
Some aspects of the novel might catch the eye of an adventurous gender theorist. Angel is forced into a disguise as a man to avoid killers who want a briefcase full of money that has disappeared from her office, and it is during this phase that she turns detective. But when the time comes to kick ass, she sheds the male garb and becomes a woman again.
Faust dedicates the book to the multimega-million-selling crime author Richard S. Prather, who died shortly before its publication. Prather's Shell Scott may be inimitable, but Faust has a good ear for his goofily reflective over-the-top wisecracks in lines like "Now that I could see where I was, I still had no idea where I was" and this:
"I slowly pulled open the Civic's passenger-side door and put my bare feet on the grimy concrete, high on beautiful, full-color action movie fantasies of dishing out .44-caliber justice. That's when I realized I was naked."=========================
I've just started The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips, but I'll mention it here because its opening scenes take place largely in a string of strip clubs in Wichita, Kansas, on Christmas Eve 1979. The clubs are nearly empty, most who are there would rather be somewhere else, and a kind of resigned humor marks the proceedings:
"Shouldn't you turn down the heat a little, Dennis?"
"Sure. I bet the nude members of our staff would greatly appreciate that."
"I see your point."
The novel became a 2005 movie that featured John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in the leads, Harold Ramis as director and Richard Russo and Robert Benton as screenwriters. It's very much worth watching even though Phillips says he hated the ending.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008