The city of Los Angeles, the Mother Church of noir film and fiction,
has rarely been more gloriously crummy than in Robert M. Eversz's
Killing Paparazzi (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95). This sequel
to Shooting Elvis (1996) is as scabrously funny as Eversz's first
novel featuring Nina Zero, née Mary Alice Baker, a young
woman whose impatience with moral corruption is only a little
less powerful than her hapless attraction to its many L.A. practitioners.
Zero's is a wonderful fictional voice -- supple-minded, sexy,
by turns tender and vulnerable and, when necessary, adroit at
using punk attitude as a shield or a club.
A onetime Angelino, Eversz has lived in Prague for most of the
last nine years, but his feel for L.A.'s essential creepiness
has never been more acute. During daylight hours, the city's sidewalks
-- this is Zero's first-person narrative -- "look merely
empty. At night, they look neutron bombed. Humanity diminishes
to dash-lit faces framed by automobile glass, and the ragged figures
of the homeless racking up shopping-cart miles... This was the
city I liked best, an absence of cars, of brightly lit store interiors
peopled by mannequins, a city where the few survivors gathered
at gas stations like frightened animals to drink their fill and
vanish back into the night."
No, most of the people who gas up at 3 a.m. in L.A. aren't really
"frightened animals" -- they probably just work late
or early -- but the noir style is, above all, about point of view,
and Zero's is warped. She escaped an abusive poor family only
to place her trust in the wrong men, including a boyfriend whose
scams resulted in a five-year prison term for Zero after she shot
several bad people and inadvertently blew up a section of LAX.
"I'd always been a good liar, even when I thought I was
telling the truth," Zero says, so she should have been wary
when Gabriel Burns described himself as "a complete rotter.
Haven't told the straight truth about anything for twenty-two
years and counting." On parole, Zero agrees to a green-card
marriage to Burns, an English photographer with visa problems,
in return for the $2,000 she hopes to use to launch her own career
in photography. During their Las Vegas "honeymoon,"
Zero falls for Burns, in her own confused way, and then is devastated
when he turns up beaten and stabbed to death.
The background to Burns's and other murders in Killing Paparazzi
is "Chinatown"-style corrupt politics and real-estate
maneuvering, but the foreground is nearly as blood-curdling: the
supermarket-tabloid celebrity-photo business. Burns is one of
its aces, and he brags that "most people just call me 'princess
killer.' " Zero's pal and mentor, Frank Adams, has fled a
left-wing weekly and moved to the tabs, "which he thought
contained the most radical writing in America. The alternative
newspapers had sold out to a radical chic consumerism as bourgeois
as mainstream culture but the tabloid press he thought a great
medium for ridiculing the American obsessions with wealth and
These would-be Swifts and Menckens, if you buy that line, can
land in hot water when, like Burns, they cultivate "a talent
for the unflattering shot" -- or if a shot is worse than
unflattering and could end the career of a star pulling down $20
million a picture, and extortion and blackmail enter into the
mix. As Zero goes after Burns's killer -- naturally she's mistrusted
and unloved by the L.A. cops -- she admits to herself that she
isn't "a professional investigator or even a talented amateur.
My greatest asset was desperation," she says. That desperation,
along with Eversz's considerable talent, infuses this terrific
thriller with tension and feeling, and will leave readers wanting
more of Nina Zero.
Reviewed by Richard Lipez
Sunday, December 16, 2001; Page