Just finished reading Henry Baum’s book NORTH OF SUNSET, a uniquely crafted character study in the style of Elmore Leonard mixed with the social satire of Chuck Palahniuk. I hate summarizing plot and that kind of shit, because personally I like coming in to a book totally cold. But I will say that it’s written from the points of view of five different people, though told in third person. In other words, the narrator, for each different chapter, gets into the heads of the five main characters and really fleshes out what it is to be
a) a charismatic movie star with the world at his feet
b) his too-beautiful-to-be-real movie star wife
c) his slimy movie producer
d) a serial killer who targets the self-obsessed Hollywood types who go the extra distance at the DMV and pay the exhorbitant fee for a personalized license plate
e) the detective trying to solve the murders
From the start, I was in awe of some of the turn-of-phrase employed by Baum. He has some just brilliant lines in here. Lines like (from the producer’s p.o.v.), “There was a knock on the door. Jessica, his secretary who needed to be fired, poked her head in the door and said, ‘Michael Sennet’s here,’ with the small, unavoidable smile that girls always had when they saw Michael.” I just fucking LOVE that, when he writes, “his secretary who needed to be fired.” And it’s so brilliant because this is the first time you meet the secretary in the book, and with that one phrase (which had me laughing for five minutes), you know pretty much all you need to know about the her.
Let’s see…I’m just going to lay out some great passages here, and then you can connect the dots when you read the book. Here goes.
“Somehow it was cops who were most unaware of the subtleties of life while being most in need of the intuition.” Great fucking line, and the mark of a true artist, who can come up with a gem like that, that just sums up so much while using so few words to explain. Kind of unlike what I’m doing in trying to explain how great it is.
Oh, and there are some great writing insights here, too:
“If he were this rich, there would be no need to kill–he would be making a killing. Curt smiled. He liked that. He considered writing it down.”
“But he needed to do something. For the novel, for himself. He missed it. When he wasn’t planning a murder he felt as empty and useless as when he wasn’t writing, unredeemable.”
“One night before falling asleep, Curt had a great idea for the novel but he was too tired to get up and turn on the light in the cold apartment and write it down. I’ll remember it in the morning, he thought. It’s so obvious that I won’t forget it. Inevitably, he forgot it, and he hated himself for it, lazy shit.”
So, yes, as a writer reading about a writer who also happens to be a serial killer, I most related to this character. I mean, how many fucking times have I thought of a great line and told myself the line like ten frigging times so I wouldn’t forget it and then forgotten it? But I NEVER would have thought to make comparisons between writing and the act of murder. That, my friends, is the mark of true inspiration.
So check out the North of Sunset, see where all our hero worship has gotten us. Peer deep into the heart of American royalty, the movie star system and the darkness that lies within.