LA noir classic meets #MeToo era in suspense novel ‘Everybody Knows’

I love detective fiction. Maybe I love him too much. That’s what some people think. Every time I review a whodunit instead of a work of “Literature” with a capital “L”, I get cranky emails. But I always thought Duke Ellington’s view of music also applied to books: “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.” So I will tell you about a good book. It appears to be a detective novel.

Everybody knows, by Jordan Harper, is a hard suspense story about a so-called “Black publicist” named Mae Pruett who works for a prestigious crisis management firm in Los Angeles. Mae is the person who gets called when movie stars, studio execs and politicians misbehave. She drives around town with blank NDAs stuffed in her purse. As we’ve been told more than once, LA is a place where “no one talks, but everyone whispers.” Mae’s job is to keep the “soft Xanax” whispers going.

As the novel opens, Mae has been called to the Chateau Marmont, the legendary Hollywood hotel where John Belushi overdosed and Jim Morrison and Lindsay Lohan, among others, partied too much. “Chateau jobs tend to be messy,” Mae tells us, and this one is no exception.

Hannah Heard, a 20-year-old star already on the wane, is starting shooting on a new movie tomorrow morning. The problem? Her left eye is “purple and swollen like a split plum”. A mega-rich creep paid six figures to fly Hannah to the other side of the world and have sex with him on her yacht. When he secretly started filming their date, Hannah threw her cellphone out a porthole. Hence her eye.

If the producers see that eye, Hannah will be fired – yet her manager, agent and lawyer won’t be returning her calls. Mae thinks to herself, “That plop-plop-plop what you hear is the sound of rats hitting the water.”

Fired by defiance, Mae whips up a cover that blames Hannah’s anxious pooch for her black eye. The bizarre cover-up comes out on Instagram and everyone is buying it. Mae celebrates in the hotel lounge with a cocktail, “something with yuzu and mescal that tastes like delicious leather.” Then, her cell phone rings and things start to go haywire. This is only the first chapter.

Everybody knows is a classic LA noir for the #MeToo era. Its tireless storyline features all the standard tropes: vulnerable young and handsome actors, depraved men in power, crooked real estate deals, and the wretched excess of Hollywoodland. None of these elements, however, look like they were part of a cardboard stage set.

Mae herself is morally nuanced: She’s aroused by the “peek behind the curtain” her black-market job gives her, even as she rebuffs it. She accepts that most of the time her job is to rehabilitate “bad men” and “disconnect power from accountability”.

But, then, Mae and her former lover, a former sheriff’s deputy turned private guardian, stumble upon something big, a “Beast” from a predatory conspiracy that threatens to eat them whole. They change team and have to play “against who [they] was”.

As ingenious as Harper’s storyline is, so is the cynical lyricism of the language of Everybody knows that kept me pierced; reading it is like watching Avenue of the Sunset for the first time. Harper’s descriptions of the strange and performing aspects of Los Angeles are especially cutting. At a fancy restaurant, for example, “Mae takes it out on her [meal of] ancient grains and bison. Eating it made her jaw tired.”

Or there’s this couple waiting outside the Beverly Hills Hotel:

“[T]The woman has tufts of blond hair that frame her acid peel face, her teeth like pearls between full Joker lips. Her husband stands like a sack of something wet, wisps of gray hair lifting his shirt, tangling at the buttonholes like prisoners clinging between the bars. It seems the age that the woman cannot have.

Or there’s the Raymond Chandler-esque zingers: “LA traffic is like quicksand: Struggling made you sink faster.”

I like to think that Chandler himself might enjoy it Everybody knows. He would be baffled, of course, by her ultimately feminist sexual politics; but he’d be tickled to see how the hardboiled Los Angeles mystery form he largely created continues to chronicle a world even more fatally haunted by images and false gods than he could ever have imagined.

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