I Don’t Want to Know

Thanksgiving Eve, and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I’m up early for Wacky Russian, and I actually woke up a half an hour before the alarm went off, well rested and not tired in the least. There’s something to this vacation thing, or it’s the sleepytime tea I’ve been drinking before I go to bed every night (I started that this week, and so far it’s been pretty effective).

Of course, now that I’ve said that, tonight it won’t work.

Last night I finished reading Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.

It was Friday the thirteenth and yesterday’s snowstorm lingered in the streets like a leftover curse. The slush outside was ankle-deep. Across Seventh Avenue a treadmill parade of lightbulb headlines marched endlessly around Times Tower’s terra cotta facade…HAWAII IS VOTED INTO UNION AS FIFTIETH STATE: HOUSE GRANTS FINAL APPROVAL 232 TO 89; EISENHOWER’S SIGNATURE OF BILL ASSURED…Hawaii, sweet land of pineapples and Haleloki; ukuleles strumming, sunshine and surf, grass skirts swaying in the tropical breeze.

I spun my chair around and stared out at Times Square. The Camels spectacular on the Claridge puffed fat steam smoke rings out over the snarling traffic. The dapper gentleman on the sign, mouth frozen in a round O of perpetual surprise, was Broadway’s harbinger of spring. Earlier in the week, teams of scaffold-hung painters transformed the smoker’s dark winter homburg and chesterfield overcoat into seersucker and panama straw; not as poetic as Capistrano swallows, but it got the message across. My building was built before the turn of the centuryl a four-story brick pile held together with soot and pigeon dung. An Easter bonnet of billboards flourished on the roof, advertising flights to Miami and various brands of beer. There was a cigar store on the corner, a Polerino parlor, two hot dog stands, and the Rialto Theatre, mid-block. The entrance was tucked between a peep-show bookstore and a novelty place, show windows stacked with whoopee cushions and plaster dog turds.

The book was originally published in 1978 and was an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel; it didn’t win, losing to Killed in the Ratings by William L. DeAndrea. It was filmed in the 1980’s as the infamous Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke, Charlotte Rampling, Lisa Bonet, and Robert DeNiro. I enjoyed the film very much when I saw it, not knowing it was based on a book; it was another one of those films that drew me to New Orleans and Louisiana. Recently (in the last several months) I came across a listing of great crime novels or the ten noir novels everyone should read or something like that; so I thought, oh, I have to read that and there you go.

The plot of the novel itself was adapted almost perfectly for the film; a private eye named Harry Angel is hired by a strange man named Louis Cyphre to find Johnny Favorite, a singer who was apparently severely injured and left with amnesia during World War II; he owes a debt to Mr. Cyphre and he suspects that Favorite may not be in the hospital he is supposed to be. Angel starts looking for Favorite and discovers that Cyphre is right; Favorite is no longer at the hospital, and soon is drawn into a creepy world of black magic, voodoo, and ritual murder. The primary difference between the novel and the film is that the novel takes place entirely in New York; in the book Favorite’s trail leads Angel to New Orleans.

I guess the filmmakers felt voodoo, black magic, and ritual murders fit better in New Orleans that New York. Whatever; I’m glad they did because again, the film was another step in my journey to New Orleans.

The book is very well done, the pacing is great and as I have said in previous entries, that cynical, hard-boiled noir voice is captured perfectly. I myself have never been able to quite get that style down absolutely right; I do intend to keep trying as I love both hard-boiled and noir styles. Having seen the movie I knew the big surprise twist; I can imagine how surprising and shocking it was back in 1978, or if you haven’t seen the film; the twist was one of the reasons I loved the movie. Even knowing it, I still enjoyed the book tremendously because of the writing.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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