Reading is a compulsory activity for some of us. I'm addicted; I
almost always have to be reading something --- whether I'm
listening to music, watching television, eating, waiting, talking
on the telephone or, ah, driving. Not a good idea I know. I'm
trying to cut back, but it's tough. As with a great many
compulsions, reading started out being fun --- in my case, Dick
Tracy comic books at the local drugstore --- and has taken on a
life of its own. It's still fun and enjoyable, of course, but those
elements take an almost secondary role, and it's tough getting
started on a 12-step program with reading when your higher power is
Random House. Once in a while, however, you pick up a book that
reminds you that reading is supposed to be FUN. And that brings us
to THE CUTTING ROOM by Laurence Klavan.
This is an almost noir mystery that doesn't take itself too
seriously. It revolves around Roy Milano, a New York City film
aficionado who is a self-styled expert in all things celluloid.
Milano finds himself unexpectedly drawn into danger and intrigue
when he is invited by Alan Gilbert, an acquaintance and rival, to
witness a private screening of a legendary, long lost film: the
complete, unreleased print of Orson Welles's The Magnificent
Ambersons. Milano arrives at Gilbert's apartment only to find
his erstwhile host dead and the film gone. Milano's compulsion ---
compulsions really make the world go round, don't they? --- leads
him on a wild chase across the country to Los Angeles, then halfway
around the world to Barcelona and back again, all in pursuit of a
film whose existence is at best apocryphal.
Milano introduces fellow film buffs along the way, broadly drawn
eccentrics, and you will recognize at least one of them within your
own circle of friends. He also unexpectedly encounters the
granddaughter of the great man himself, a beautiful lady with
secrets of her own. Toss in a couple of surprise allies, some
unexpected enemies and a whole bunch of sedate but interesting plot
twists, and you have a print version of one of those madcap
ensemble movies from the 1960s, kind of a print version of It's
A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
The best part of the book, however, is Milano's penchant for
dropping bits of film trivia here, there and everywhere throughout
his narrative, usually appropriately, occasionally not, but always
entertainingly. You're almost guaranteed to learn something. I
never knew why Mr. Briggs was replaced by Mr. Phelps in the
television version of Mission: Impossible until I read this
book. More knowledge, imminently useful or not, waits within.
Klavan has a winner with THE CUTTING ROOM and with Milano. Klavan's
background in film and theater runs deep, which gives this fine
novel and its characters that ring of authenticity that cannot be
artificially manufactured. Most of all, however, THE CUTTING ROOM
is fun to read. And --- great news --- Milano will be back. I hope
he brings more film trivia with him.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011