by Jordan Harper
Mulholland Books, January 2023, $28
There’s a lot of SoCal mileage traversed in Jordan Harper’s noirish Everybody Knows, as its damaged protagonists investigate a death that leads to grim discoveries in the land of palm trees and dreamers.
With stop-offs in Brentwood, West Hollywood, Koreatown, Silverlake, East L.A., Calabasas, and more, the author—an Edgar-winner for his 2017 debut novel She Rides Shotgun—delves into the darkness overshadowing the glittery cityscapes and the souls of its power-hungry characters. It’s a bumpy, bruising, bloody journey told in short, choppy James Patterson-esque sentences. Harper, a writer-producer for TV, keeps adjectives to a minimum and cuts to the chase.
The book opens at the Sunset Strip’s famed Chateau Marmont, where Mae Pruett, a publicist specializing in damage control, tracks down troubled actress Hannah Heard. Pruett is in crisis management; Heard is a perpetual crisis. Not terribly likable (no one in this book is, really) Heard came to fame as a teen in the TV series called What If? Her many problems are tied to her tenure on the show where the creator/showrunner is known for proclivities with his beautiful underage talent, male and female. Everybody whispers about it. Nobody dares talk.
Soon Mae’s attention is divided when her superior, a PR “black-bag wizard,” is killed in a carjacking. He was just about to bring Mae on an off-the-books job, one he said would make her rich. Wondering if the confidential assignment was related to his death, Mae begins her own investigation. This leads to a reunion with a former lover, a disgraced cop-turned-muscle for a major private security firm. The hulking Chris Tamburro (who sports a stubble and a 3XL tracksuit) has his own suspicions about the case and readily teams with Mae to uncover the truth.
Mae and Chris have long buried their own ugly truths as pain-dealers. Chris's sins include physical violence (delivered at the command of his employer); Mae’s work demands ugly psychological strong-arming. Like most of the rich and famous people she deals with, Mae is about artifice: originally from the Ozarks, she’s shed her past and her twang for steely resolve. She lets up a bit at home, where a rescue dog reminds us that she’s got a soft side. But like everyone else on her horizon, she’s driven by the lure of money—which in this novel equates to power and freedom. As the book’s epigraph, by Cuban poet José Martí reads, “I have lived in the monster and I know its entrails.”
As Mae and Chris carry out their private surveillance the skies around them sometimes burn bright. Someone is torching L.A.’s homeless encampments. Meantime, politics and power-brokers and ripped-from-the-headlines subplots converge, and what was once viewed as a seemingly random death reveals a far-reaching web.
There are ultimately too many threads to that web and a too-thick mélange of characters. But for those who want a kinetic read, and a L.A. tour that doesn’t require use of a navigation app, Everybody Knows is a full-throttle ride. Just don’t expect to smile.
Southern California native Pat H. Broeske is a longtime reviewer for Mystery Scene. As a mystery devotee, and a former film industry journalist, she often writes about the intersection of Hollywood & crime, including film noir.