Tag Archives: crime novel

The Club: Ellery Lloyd

I read Ellery Lloyd’s (writing team Paul Vlitos and Collette Lyons) People Like Her, a domestic thriller that looks at that time-sucking phenomenon: social media and how its invasiveness shapes, taints and even endangers our private lives. The Club, although quite different, seems a natural follow-up.

The Club refers to The Home Group which is a collection of ritzy resorts for VIPs. Covent garden, Manhattan, Santa Monica, Cannes, Shanghai, Venice, Paris are some of the destinations, but Island Home, with its 5000 pound per night “price tag” promises to eclipse them all. Ned Groom is the CEO of The Home Group– a “volatile genius who had built an empire on taste.” As his business empire has grown over the last 30 years, Ned has become increasingly difficult. To say he throws tantrums would be putting it mildly–rather he is abusive to his employees who are often left in tears, shaking in their shoes after one of his meltdowns. Nikki, Ned’s PA is used to these tirades and takes them in stride, realizing that they are part of Ned’s process.

The book opens with a vehicle leaving Ned Groom’s latest resort, Island Home. We don’t know who is in the vehicle which is speeding trying to get to the mainland via a causeway (accessible during low tide). The vehicle doesn’t make it to the mainland and then becomes an underwater spectacle as guests see the upturned vehicle from the viewing rooms of the underwater restaurant, Poseidon. Then the plot moves back in time to the buildup of Island Home’s opening; Ned Groom is in full abuse mode. While meltdowns occur before every opening, somehow this one feels different.

Ned was different this time. His anger less focused. His triggers less predictable. His patterns of behaviour, the swoop and swerve of his annoyances, far more erratic.

Apart from Ned’s increased temper before the resort opens, other things are going wrong. Adam Groom, Ned’s brother, Director of Special Projects, at age 49, wants more from life, and he hates his job. The head of housekeeping was fired 10 days prior to the opening, and a replacement had to be found, pronto.

Due to the VIP guest list, cameras/devices are not allowed; guests must deposit their phones at the reception area. We’ve all seen enough embarrassing celeb footage to imagine why, yet at the same time, forbidding cameras underscores the idea that the doings at these resorts may well be unsavoury.

Told from various viewpoints, including Jess, the newly hired head-of housekeeping, Annie, Head of Membership, Nikki, Ned’s PA, we see how even the rich and famous are sorted and scratched off the celebrity list. Membership is exclusive, almost 6,000 total, but only 150 are invited to a launch.

Any system like this is going to breed rancor and enemies. When celebrities “began to realize that they hadn’t made the guest list, they went into overdrive” desperately trying to get invited to the opening. Not being invited is a signal that you are on the downward slope.

“Those who did not quite make the cut instead got placed on a permanent waiting list, queuing in a line that never moved, stuck (as Annie thought of it) in celebrity purgatory.

Even though the book starts with an accident in which we know people die, there’s not much tension and the tale is slow to unroll. Ned is horrible, and his sole dictate when it comes to guests is “no wankers.” Well he’s the chief wanker and while this would make a great TV series, as a book, I found it impossible to care.

Review copy

3 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Lloyd Ellery

The Drowning Pool: Ross Macdonald (1950)Lew Archer 2

“Sex and Money; the forked root of evil.”

Back to Lew Archer for Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool. This novel is the second in the series, following on the heels of The Moving Target. In this novel, Lew Archer investigates a case involving threatening letters, but the case quickly devolves to murder. The very attractive Maude Slocum visits Archer’s office and shows him a short vicious letter which was sent to her husband, James. The letter, which Maude intercepted, accuses Maude of adultery. Maude denies that she has been unfaithful, but Archer isn’t so sure. Maude argues that another letter might reach James and he would give it to his mother. That would ensure an ugly divorce. Archer agrees to take the case, although he thinks there must be more to the accusations of adultery. And, as usual, Archer’s instincts are spot-on.

Archer travels to Nopal Valley, to the home of the Slocums. James Slocum is an amateur actor with the Quinto Players , and Archer, catching a rehearsal, watches James Slocum hamming it up as the dramatic lead in a pathetically bad play written by pompous Francis Marvell.

It was the kind of play that only a mother or an actor could love, the kind of stuff that parodied itself. Phony sophistication with a high gloss, and no insides at all.

While Archer watches a few scenes from this awful play, he also catches a dramatic scene, offstage that takes place between teenage nymphette Cathy Slocum and the man she’s been practicing on, the Slocums’ hunky chauffeur, Reavis.

He turned and smiled wide, full in my face, and I had my first chance to study him. The teeth were white. the black eyes frank and boyish, the lines of the features firm and clean. Reavis had quantities of raw charm. But underneath it there was something lacking. I could talk to him all night and never find his core, because he had never found it.

Then onto the Slocum home where matriarch Olivia Slocum rules with an iron rod. James, Maude, and their teenage daughter Cathy live there too, with mummy holding the purse strings. Her property, which sits on oil, is worth a fortune. She refuses to sell for sentimental and moral reasons, but the property and her fortune keep James tied to her. Olivia is one of those mothers. According to her, James is a Renaissance Man, a veritable genius at everything he turns his attention to. And what is going on between Marvell and James? And why does Ralph Knudson, the Chief of Police, a “tall and thick, a bifurcated chunk of muscle” hang out at the Slocum home? And why is Maude Slocum so tense when Knudson shows up? It’s obvious that the relationships between the Slocums are unhealthy and twisted. Maude hates her mother-in-law, Olivia hasn’t forgiven James for marrying Maude, and Cathy flirts with the help. Add to that the very sick and twisted relationship between Maude and James….

With the discovery of a body floating in the pool, the case becomes more and more complicated. The Drowning Pool is my least favourite Archer so far, but it is still better than most crime books out there. These were unforgiving times for homosexuality, and the characters queasily reflect the attitudes of period. But the family dynamic–people who hate each other yet stick together for money–rang all too true. Packed with atmosphere and MacDonald’s signature hard style, the story packs a powerful punch.

The reflection of a stop-light made a long red smudge on the asphalt where 101 Alternate crossed the foot of the town. Four or five heavy trucks had gathered at the truck stop on the corner like buffalo at a waterhole. As I turned right onto the freeway, I could see the drivers bent over an early breakfast, and a thin-browed, pug-faced waitress smoking a cigarette by the kitchen door. It would have been very pleasant to stop and eat three eggs and talk for a while and then go back to bed in the motel. I cut my wheels sharp left at the next crossing, and the tires whined in self-pity: so late, so weary.

And then there’s the marvelous character of Lew Archer: a man who spends too much of his life exploring the darker side of human nature. This case does nothing to elevate Archer’s opinion of people.

The man in the mirror was big and flat-bodied, and lean-faced. One of his gray eyes was larger than the other, and it swelled and wavered like the eye of conscience; the other eye was little, hard and shrewd. I stood still for an instant, caught by my own distorted face, and the room reversed itself like a trick drawing in a psychological test. For an instant I was the man in the mirror, the shadow-figure without a life of his own who peered with one large eye and one very small eye through dirty glass at the dirty lives of people in a very dirty world.

Usually with series characters, we get the crime on hand and a continuation of the private life of the series PI. Not so here. As Archer notes, he’s “without a life of his own.

2 Comments

Filed under Macdonald Ross, posts