It's not every month that our Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to a rookie author, although I suppose Wesley Strick is not, strictly speaking, a rookie, even if Out There in the Dark is his first novel. Strick is well known in film circles as a screenwriter and script doctor. Among his credits are blockbuster films such aCape Fear, Final Analysis, The Saint and Doom. For his first between-the-covers outing, Strick sets the action in 1940s Hollywood, featuring a major character who looks (and acts and thinks) a lot like a young Ronald Reagan. Not quite an A-list leading man, Harley Hayden has the self-effacing manner, the liquid blue eyes, the shock of wavy hair falling onto his forehead in short, all the prerequisites to cast him as a Tinseltown idol. One small problem, though: he is having an affair with the daughter of the studio owner, and said studio owner is none too happy about it. Enter Mike Roarke, disgraced L.A. cop and sometime private eye. Hired by the studio owner to investigate Hayden's background and character, Roarke is perhaps on unfamiliar ground. His own background and character will not withstand heavy scrutiny, or indeed, any scrutiny at all: The honor system was no favorite of Roarke's: indeed, it was the very system that had tripped him up in law enforcement. But Roarke didn't object. Whenever he held cash in his hand, the former vice cop found himself incapable of making even the most elementary moral distinctions. It was the darnedest thing. His loyalty to the highest bidder thus established, Roarke finds himself hired by Hayden to investigate expat B-movie director Dieter Seife, a petty tyrant with possible connections to Nazi Germany's political elite. If you are a fan of noir Hollywood mysteries (Chinatown or Day of the Locust jump to mind), Out There in the Dark will be right up your alley. You will find a collection of characters straight out of Central Casting (comely starlet, callow yet charming leading man, gruff studio boss, sleazy PI); a plot just shouting for a movie adaptation; and an insider's look at the good, the bad and the ugly of wartime Hollywood.

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