The Bottom Line: High-impact LA noir featuring a highly quotable amateur sleuth.
Los Angeles is a great town for artists – but only if you can afford it. Forty-something performer Charlie Tobias reluctantly becomes a probate attorney at a firm specializing in everyday disputes among families. Little does Charlie know that his clients will often turn up dead, and that he will be the one person truly motivated to find their killer.
In the tradition of LA Confidential and Double Indemnity, author Charles Domokos has created an admirable work of contemporary noir where LA is a character unto itself. The presence of iPhones and Kalishnikovs firmly put the book in the present, but a few characters still use deliciously old-school lingo like “goons” and “pigeon.” Similarly, Domokos doesn’t use flashbacks, flash forwards or alternating points of view to artificially accelerate the plot. He instead builds tension gradually, one murder at a time, until the stakes are so high in the second act that the book becomes a true page-turner.
As an added bonus, Domokos adds layers of suspense with a brilliant subplot that has Charlie attempting to keep his performing career alive while his new life pulls him ever deeper into a web of murder and deceit. At times, he breathlessly changes into hilarious costumes just before the curtain rises. Throughout, the performing arts are portrayed in a way that is simultaneously absurd and beautiful.
Domokos fills the book with sketchy people working angles and spewing lies, beginning with the attorney who hires him (“Probate is so rewarding. You get to make all the difference in people’s lives”). Charlie is a vulnerable character to be sure, but he’s wise enough to see a fable coming, and smart enough to keep his mouth shut in critical moments. With that said, expect to highlight Charlie’s often profound inner thoughts and dialogue constantly (“There was a time in his life when he knew no one who died…Charlie couldn’t remember when all that hope extinguished.”)