Cullen Gallagher mentioned this novel a couple of weeks ago on his blog, and since I happened to have a copy on hand, I thought I’d go ahead and read it. I’d never read any of McCoy’s novels before, although I’ve read several of his pulp stories and enjoyed them. And I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME is dedicated in part to Joseph T. Shaw, the famous editor of BLACK MASK, so I figured it might be worthwhile.
Which it certainly is, although it’s not a crime novel at all. A few minor crimes take place, but they’re hardly the focus of the book. Instead it’s a Hollywood novel set in the Thirties, narrated by Ralph Carston, a young would-be actor from Georgia who’s determined to make it big in the movies. As the book opens, he’s working sporadically as an extra and living, platonically, with a bit-part actress named Mona Matthews. Ralph makes the acquaintance of a wealthy widow known for throwing lavish Hollywood parties, and despite being rather naïve, he knows that she can help him advance his career if he goes along with what she wants, which is him.
This book is pretty much a soap opera. Along with Ralph’s affair with the widow, the plot features a big star who turns out to be a lesbian, an interracial couple, some nights spent in jail, a suicide, and lots of boozing and sex. What makes I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME worth reading is McCoy’s bleak, fast-paced prose. The plot may be melodramatic, but the writing is pure hardboiled, with a grim, fatalistic tone that makes the book qualify as noir, as well. I’ll definitely have to get around to McCoy’s other novels, and in the meantime, if you like Hollywood novels, this one gets my recommendation.