by L.A. Morse
Rating – 4/10
Summary – In the 1980s, L.A. Morse got everyone’s attention by creating a politically-incorrect p.i. named Sam Hunter and loading the Hunter books with sex and violence. Unfortunately, the novel Sleaze doesn’t do much to hold the reader’s attention. Skip this one.
Review – Sleaze is a novel in author L.A. Morse’s series of Sam Hunter novels. In a review of an earlier Hunter novel in the book 1001 Midnights, critic Bill Crider wrote that “The character of Sam Hunter represents the ultimate in sexism” (p. 586). Crider went on to note that some consider the Hunter character a parody and that – if nothing else – Morse succeeded in creating a series about which no one is neutral.
That was enough of an “endorsement” for me. There aren’t many mystery novels that offer anything other than escapism, so the Hunter series seemed interesting. Unfortunately, the book was a big letdown. While Morse does have some chops as a writer, Sleaze just didn’t do very much for me.
In Sleaze Hunter isn’t particularly sexist. However, he is very cynical and world weary. Hunter tells another character “Principles are fine, I guess, but they can fuck you up. Or so I’ve heard. Personally, I wouldn’t know” (p. 139).
The cynical Hunter is actually a good tour guide to L.A.’s gutters. Here, Hunter describes his hometown:
“This was the town, all right. Cults, sects, whatever you wanted to call them, they flourished here like mushrooms in bullshit, showing the way to the lost, the blind, and the lame, promising easy answers to people who didn’t even know what the fucking questions were. This was the land of sunshine and palm trees and golden opportunity waiting to be plucked like an orange; if you couldn’t make it here, you were in deep shit, because there was nowhere else to go. This was the edge, the last frontier, the end of the goddam line. There’d never been any shortage of dime-store gurus here, or of terminal losers looking for the magic mantra that would let them put it all together. A few groups had some staying power, but most sprouted at night, bloomed under a full moon, and scattered when the Ultimate Solution turned out to be just one more scam in the City of Angles” (p. 20).
Another thing that I like about Sleaze is that Hunter/Morse is apparently something of a “foodie.” Sleaze includes several long, loving descriptions of meals eaten by Hunter. Consider this description of the chili served in a roadside dive:
“I watched as Gus ladled it up from a cast-iron pot the size of a garbage can. The same batch of chili had been simmering on the stove for at least fifteen years. Gus said it took at least ten years for a chili to develop character. His had that, all right. It smelled of cumin and tasted like molten lava. Gus used a lot of different kinds of chilies in his brew – ancho, pasilla, mulato, chipotle, pequin, chili de arbol, and a few others – but the real killers were the fresh habaneros that he had flown in every week from the Yucatan. Those were strong enough to blister paint” (p. 42).
In spite of Morse’s talent, the novel itself is not great. The plot begins to develop when the editor of a skin magazine, Sleaze, hires Hunter to investigate a religious cult that is making threats against her. The editor is quite a babe and, unsurprisingly, Hunter finds that there is some truth to the threats. I thought that the plot was below average; though the novel starts well, it then loses momentum and the ending lacks drama and “punch.”
Much of the storyline is weak and unbelievable. For instance, Hunter gets the police to provide him with information, but refuses to reciprocate. Also, toward the end of the book there is a shootout. The baddies greatly outnumber Hunter, but they attack one by one rather than “ganging up” on him. (Rather sporting of them, eh?). Also, in the shootout one of the villains is armed with an Ingram machine gun, but another is armed with a sickle. What? One would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the bad guys passed out the weapons.
Sleaze is light reading that – in places – offers some strong writing from L.A. Morse. Unfortunately, a weak plot dooms the book to mediocrity.