It is a huge pleasure to have the opportunity to review Rod Reynold’s latest Charlie Yates thriller, as part of the blog tour. For those who keep up with the (much neglected) Orenda community blog, I’ve also reviewed the two earlier books in the series: The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling, and Rod is fast becoming one of my favourite non-Orenda authors.
I had very high expectations for Cold Desert Sky and they were more than matched. Rod has created another exquisitely authentic masterpiece, his 1940s America coming alive with its richly drawn setting, terse and believable dialogue, and powerful characterization, and it draws on the best elements of American noir, with its dark, hardboiled grittiness, the tangible, almost visceral thread of jeopardy that runs throughout, a protagonist almost hell-bent on self-destruction, and a population of utterly realistic gangsters.
Haunted by ghosts from his past, reporter Charlie Yates is on a mission to discover the fate and whereabouts of two young, aspiring actresses, who appear to have vanished without trace. Despite the clear and ever-present threat to him and his wife, Lizzie, he’s prepared to risk everything to find them, even if it means knocking on the wrong doors and asking questions that are guaranteed to earn him more trouble. On his tail, and most certainly heavily involved, is Bugsy Seigel, based on a real-life gangster who commanded Los Angeles and the Nevada desert, building the first casino in what we now call Las Vegas. He’s got history with Charlie, and their interactions fizz with obligatory violence and menace. Charlie is a thorn in his side, but he can’t kill him just yet…
The big difference with Cold Desert Sky is that Charlie has Lizzie by his side, and her part in the narrative brings both a compelling and insistent tension and a refreshing counterpoint to Charlie’s often rash and impulsive actions. Lizzie is a woman ahead of her time … full of common sense and rational thinking, brimming with an almost brash confidence, and her investigative abilities most certainly match those of her husband. While she grudgingly puts up with their nomadic existence, living between hotels, and always on the move, she comes into her own when she starts the search for the innocent girls on her own terms … and gets results.
The complex but exceptionally well-orchestrated plot is driven by Charlie’s obsession with two girls he didn’t even know … a penance, perhaps, for past perceived inadequacies, lives not saved … but also the resonant corruption nourishing a Hollywood that doesn’t seem to have changed much since the 1940s, with blackmail and a legendary casting couch defining the industry. Federal agents enter the mix, with their motives and trustworthiness in question, and when a body is found at Seigel’s building site in Las Vegas, Charlie is forced to confront the possibility that the young women are probably not as innocent as he’d believed.
One of the most distressing and vividly painted elements of Cold Desert Sky is the prod at the underbelly of 1940s America – in particular, the mirage that is Hollywood and the burgeoning glitz of Las Vegas, a gleaming facade that masks the heartlessness, the perpetual re-invention, the narcissism and ruthlessness that defines their inhabitants. There is a careless disregard for life, forming a heartbreaking portrait of the people who lived on the periphery of the ‘dream’, falling into a wasteland and immediately forgotten when their stars don’t rise, and when they don’t come home.
Quite apart from being a first-class, evocative thriller, Cold Desert Sky is also an emotive read. Its expert craftsmanship is underpinned by a raw and emotional core. This is page-turning, highly engaging entertainment, but also a study of corruption, guilt, relationships and a paper-thin industry peddling dreams. If you haven’t read Rod Reynolds yet, you are missing some of the best crime fiction you may ever read. Simply outstanding.
No one wanted to say it to me, that the girls were dead. But I knew . . .
Late 1946 and Charlie Yates and his wife Lizzie have returned to Los Angeles, trying to stay anonymous in the City of Angels.
But when Yates, back in his old job at the Pacific Journal, becomes obsessed by the disappearance of two aspiring Hollywood starlets, he finds it leads him right back to his worst fear: legendary mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a man he once crossed, and whose shadow he can’t shake.
As events move from LA to the burgeoning Palace of Sin in the desert, Las Vegas – where Siegel is preparing to open his new casino hotel, The Flamingo – Rod Reynolds once again shows his skill at evoking time and place. With Charlie caught between the FBI and the mob, can he possibly see who is playing who, and find out what really happened to the girls?
About Rod Reynolds:
Rod Reynolds was born in London and, after a successful career in advertising, working as a media buyer, he decided to get serious about writing. He recently completed City University’s Crime Writing Masters course and his first novel, THE DARK INSIDE, was published by Faber in 2015. The sequel, BLACK NIGHT FALLING, will follow in August 2016. Rod lives in London with his wife and two daughters. Contact him on Twitter: @Rod_WR
Cold Desert Sky
Faber & Faber
Published: 5 July 2018
Keep up with the Cold Desert Sky blog tour here: