A couple of years ago I read a story in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE called “Unruly Jade”. The author was Terence Faherty, and the story, set in Hollywood in 1947, featured a private eye named Scott Elliott who worked for an outfit called Hollywood Security. I thought it was a great story, snappy and fast-paced and very pulpish, just the sort of thing that might have actually been published in BLACK MASK or DIME DETECTIVE alongside yarns by Day Keene and John D. McDonald and William Campbell Gault.
So I knew that I would probably like THE HOLLYWOOD OP, a collection of Scott Elliott stories from the great small press publisher Perfect Crime Books. For one thing, “Unruly Jade” was included in the collection, the first story, in fact, and for another, as a longtime fan of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories, as well as Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories, I loved that title. A cross between Dan Turner and the Op, maybe?
Well, no. The biggest influence on these stories seems to me to be Raymond Chandler, which I’ll get back to in a minute. With one exception, Faherty has arranged the stories in this volume in chronological order according to his protagonist’s life. Elliott, a former contract player at Paramount, returns to Hollywood after serving in World War II and becomes an operative for Hollywood Security when it becomes apparent that his acting career is over. Faherty follows him through the late Forties, the Fifties, and on up into the Sixties, painting a spectacularly vivid picture of Hollywood during that same stretch of years. The stories are evocative, complexly plotted, and very well-written. I’m a sucker for a private eye whose wisecracks cover up a sense of melancholy, and Elliott falls squarely into that category.
The book closes with the previously unpublished novella “Sleep Big”, and there’s that Chandler influence again. This story is set before World War II, when Elliott is still an actor instead of a private detective, but he becomes involved in a very complicated murder case anyway. This is a tribute to and pastiche of THE BIG SLEEP, and while even attempting such a thing is a pretty big task, Faherty pulls it off very successfully, even poking a little fun at himself along the way for his audacity.
If you’re a fan of private eye fiction, I can’t recommend THE HOLLYWOOD OP highly enough. You should go order a copy right now if you don’t have the book already. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.