Friday, July 5, 2013
Murder and Other Distractions - Michael Estrin
2012; 200 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Slacker Noir. Overall Rating : 7½*/10.
Poor Ethan. He goes down to La Fogata, his favorite place for tacos, and who does he run into? His ex-GF, aka “The Girl Who Got Away”. With her new flame, aka “Lesser Me”. But what really hurts is the fact that Ethan considers La Fogata to be his taco joint. The ex and her boy-toy should find their own Mexican food dive.
Ethan gives them his best parting zinger (“This place is better than butt-sex”), and exits semi-gracefully. Unfortunately, somebody murders the couple later that night, and Ethan has only the flimsiest of an alibi. Which makes hard-assed Detective Boyd of the LAPD certain that Ethan is guilty. And Boyd won’t rest until he’s extracted a full confession out of Ethan.
What’s To Like...
There’s a double-murder, and a mystery as to whodunit. But this really isn’t a Murder-Mystery. It’s more of a contemporary fiction novel about Ethan, and how he copes with women, work, and an insane world. Michael Estrin writes in a style that is both witty and convincing. But be forewarned – Murder & Other Distractions is R-Rated from the first page – both in language and in content. It works nicely (what would you expect from the Slacker Noir genre?), but this is not a book for the prudish.
Ethan is nicely developed as an anti-hero. He’s not really great with the ladies; work is little more than seeing how long he can avoid being laid off; and his friends tolerate him more than they like him. He’s a classic slacker and an obvious suspect. But he and Detective Boyd develop an unlikely kinship as the story progresses.
But for me, the best part of the story is Michael Estrin’s portrayal of Los Angeles. I lived in the greater LA area for three summers, and there’s something pitch-black and oily and evil-feeling about the city. The author catches this ambiance perfectly. It brought back some delightfully dark memories.
The Internet is no place for an existential crisis. Being connected to everyone and everything ought to be illuminating. The truth is, it’s madness – a tower of babble moving at the speed of light, and there’s no way off the mountain. (loc. 588)
“You want to know the difference between men and women?” Zeiger asks his class, which is nearly all female. “Here’s the thing. We all want $100. Women look at life and they search for that one Benjamin – the perfect guy. Men, on the other hand, will take all the dirty singles they can get.” (loc. 797)
Murder and Other Distractions sells for $2.99 at Amazon. AFAIK, this is Michael Estrin’s debut offering at Amazon.
“Los Angeles is a car town. Like a Disney ride, it’s best if you keep your arms and legs safely inside the vehicle.” (loc. 639)
If there’s a weakness to Murder and Other Distraction, it’s the storyline itself. Estrin’s wit and insight is a joy to read, but sooner or later you start craving an exciting, or even just a coherent plot. The Who of the whodunit is completely arbitrary, which will leave mystery readers disappointed. And while I thoroughly love the way Estrin “catches” the essence of LA, if you’ve never lived or visited there, you may get tired of the countless references to various neighborhoods and streets.
So let’s give M&OD 7½ Stars. It’s a tantalizingly good debut effort. If Michael Estrin learns to drape his writing skills around a gripping plotline, he’s going to have a great and long-lasting writing career.