Earthquake Weather

Terrill Lee Lankford knows his way around Hollywood. EARTHQUAKE WEATHER came out earlier this year from Ballantine. The novel’s inciting incident is the Northridge quake; it drives the Angelenos from their homes so they can meet one another. Mark is a D-boy in Hollywood parlance, working for a production company that has a ‘first look’ arrangement with Warner Brothers. Mark aspires to be being a movie producer, an ambition that the author demonstrates is no kind of work for good people.

While the novel is marketed as a murder mystery, it’s not. Yes, there’s a murder. The head of the company, Dexter Morton, is bumped off in his swimming pool, the apparent victim of falling statuary; Mark discovers this body the morning after a party at Dexter’s Mount Olympus estate. The party culminated with a messy split between Dexter and his live-in girlfriend Charity. Charity goes home with Mark, one of those bad ideas that keeps getting worse. As LAPD laconically pursues Dexter’s killer, Mark emerges as the number one suspect. Mark’s neighbor is a screenwriter with a major grudge against the deceased, but the cops are focused on Mark. He found the body, he stole the girl.

EARTHQUAKE WEATHER is more a social novel than suspense thriller; the microcosm that is Hollywood is exposed as a vicious little world where nasty people win each time, every time. The book is a primer on how things work inside this world; screenplays are bought for all the wrong reasons, handed over to D-boys, like Mark, to be ‘fixed’ green lighted by studio chiefs far removed from the actual work. The essence of corruption is artifice; the film business thrives on suspicion, fear and power. Mark wants to be powerful so he can stop being fearful and suspicious. With a protagonist this shallow EARTHQUAKE WEATHER relies on a cast of secondary characters to propel the story. This is a difficult task for any novelist; Mark’s blundering with the cops make him appear naïve as well as shallow. His conduct around Charity is venal and whiny; Mark heads to South Central in search of true love and or his stolen television set; the reader will be shouting for him to take the TV.

Oddly enough Dexter’s murder doesn’t heighten the story’s tension, but reduces it. Dexter is the straw that stirs the drink and when he’s gone halfway through the book, we’re left with Mark. In order for the scenes leading to climax to make sense we have to believe that he cares about Charity; that was a tough sell, and I couldn’t quite buy it.

Still, there’s plenty to like about Lankford’s style; I’d certainly look forward to reading his next novel. Maybe EARTHQUAKE WEATHER succeeds too well in examining the sleaze of Hollywood. It’s tough to find a character to like.