Among the benefits of electronic self-publishing is the ability to discover books you missed the first time and have gone out of print. They’re inexpensive to bring back, and authors never sold the electronic rights because there were no electronic rights to sell. Timothy Hallinan, creator of the successful series of Poke Rafferty thrillers as well as the soon to be wildly successful Junior Bender series, which will be (hopefully) coming to a theater or television near you before too long.
Before Hallinan thought of Rafferty or Bender, there was Simeon Grist, LA private investigator. Grist was as tough as he needed to be, but no more, and he didn’t care much for it then, though it wouldn’t do to mess with him too much. The series did relatively well, but the publisher lost interest, and the books languished in the nether regions of out of printdom until recently.
Skin Deep was the first Grist book written, but the third to see print. (Publishing works like that a lot. Plotting the history of many books from completed manuscript to copy in hand often resembles one of those old Family Circus cartoons, where Mom has called Billy to come home right away and it takes him fifteen stops to get there, well intentioned though he might be.) In it, Grist is hired to keep a television star out of trouble while a syndication deal is struck for the star’s series. Toby Vane is handsome, charming, abusive to women, and as vile a character as I’ve read in a long time who still remains believable. Grist is repulsed by him, yet takes the case for the money after finding out how much the syndication rights are worth to the producer.
The plot moves well, but, like Hallinan’s later work, the characters are what make the story. Grist is cynical enough to take the job for money, and sensitive enough to be sold on it by convincing him he’ll be protecting women as much as shielding Toby. The producer who would sell his soul for the deal, and the PR man who did. Nana, the half-Korean nude dancer with a Texas accent who is as hard as she needs to be, which is more than she wants to be.
Everything that happens is believable, which makes much of it even more disconcerting. The dialog is each character’s own, clever and witty, never going for a laugh, though there are several in there. The prose propels the story at a less than breakneck pace, exactly as fast as it needs to go. Little gems are everywhere, such as how the strip club where Nana works, The Spice rack, got its name: Used to be a restaurant, and neon’s expensive.
Putting together a successful series is hard; ask around. Hallinan has done it three times. The fading away of Simeon Grist says much more about the publishing industry than it does about the quality of the stories. Take advantage of their resurrection to discover some underappreciated gems, and Skin Deep is as good a place as any to start.