Saturday, November 18, 2006

Manifesto for the Dead -- Domenic Stansberry

You have to be pretty audacious to write a novel with Jim Thompson as the main character. You have to be even more audacious to have Thompson writing a novel with the novel. Domenic Stansberry is nothing if not audacious.

It's 1971. Thompson's in Hollywood and just about at the end of his rope. He's having marital problems, he's sinking deeper into alcoholism, and he's having problems getting work. Then there are a couple of murders, and he's the prime suspect. The book he's writing and his own life seem to be becoming one and the same.

I'm not sure anyone could satisfy Jim Thompson's fans with a book like this, but Stansberry comes close. The tone of the book is dark, and it spirals off into the kind of craziness that Thompson routinely managed. The excerpts from the novel that Thompson are just close enough to the real thing to be convincing, and there's some good comedy when the cop investigating the murders gets into a homily-trading dialogue with Thompson. It's as if Thompson were talking to Lou Ford.

The book is short, only 184 pages, some of them blank. About the length of a Lion Book, say, or a Gold Medal. I'm sure this is deliberate, and Stansberry manages to cram a lot of plot into those pages. The portrait of Thompson might not be accurate, but it feels right. Check it out.


  1. Todd Mason10:42 AM

    How does it compare with Joe Gores's HAMMETT? Wish I could remember the title and author of the one Pronzini had so much fun with in GUN IN CHEEK, the idiotic attempt to write a novel using Chandler as the protagonist...

  2. I think the one Pronzini had so much fun with is Chandler which, believe me, is just as awful as he says. This one's much better than that by several orders of magnitude. I haven't read Hammett since its original publication. I remember liking it but not enough detail for a comparison.

  3. By someone called William Denbow (just found it on Abe). Here's what a dealer has to say:

    "Silly idea, but it works--in the book, that is."

  4. That dealer has a much higher opinion of the book than I did. I thought it didn't work at all.