Hollywood Shakedown is an atmospheric crime novel in the tradition of Chandler and Ellroy. Set against a backdrop of the seedy side of LA, the plot is driven by a quest to find a rare manuscript that may or may not exist and Barry takes us on a breakneck journey with mini-sojourns in Chicago and London along the way.
The main protagonist is Buddy Chinn, a writer who doesn’t write but spends all his time drinking, gambling and wondering about the whereabouts of his lover and soul mate Monique instead. Buddy is a complex character, who tests our patience and ultimately has the potential to disappoint us. Barry’s skill and confidence as a writer, however, is evident in the way he gives us Buddy, warts and all, to make of what we will. Buddy’s fatal flaw is his fear of abandonment brought about by having to live in the shadow of a mostly absent father, a father who also happened to be an alcoholic and successful writer. Buddy’s entire life is defined by his insecurity and a crippling fear of failure.
His relationships with others are inevitably difficult. He loves Monique more than he’s ever loved anyone but he can’t trust her and their relationship is tainted by his fear of being truthful about who he is and what he wants. Monique is a free spirit, who pays a heavy price for loving Buddy and we are left in the end wondering if she deserves better. The heart of the novel turns out to be Simon Harris, a transplanted Brit who, despite being a bit of a wide boy, provides the conscience and reason that Buddy lacks.
One of my favourite themes in novels is when cultures collide and this is played out to great effect in Hollywood Shakedown. Barry takes great delight in setting Buddy, a life-long Los Angeleno, loose in a world that couldn’t be more different to his own. I laughed out loud several times as Buddy navigates pubs and has to endure a football game complete with Bovril. During his travels, Buddy encounters a myriad of characters and, one of Barry’s strengths is that there are no ‘throwaway’ characters, no matter how small or insignificant their function within the novel may be.
As the novel draws to a close with Buddy and Simon preparing to face their tormentor, the tension becomes almost palpable. Barry can’t resist playing with us a little bit, offering an alternative ending, but finally we are left feeling battered, bruised and a little bit heartbroken, much like Buddy himself.