Review

The Dead Circus

by John Kaye



During the first half of 1966 you couldn't turn on the radio
without hearing a great tune by The Bobby Fuller Four titled "I
Fought the Law." Written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets, it was a
straight ahead rocker, featuring killer power chords and an
instantly memorable melody. Most unforgettable of all, however, was
the way that the music stopped, with Fuller singing, "A-robbin'
people with a..." While the drummer interrupted the line with four
quick hits to the snare, so suddenly that it's still a surprise to
hear it, even after hearing the record thousands of times. A
follow-up release, "You Know Love's Made a Fool of You," was just
entering the charts that summer when the news hit that Fuller was
dead. Initial reports were to the effect that he had been found in
a car with a bullet wound to the head. Later reports indicated that
his bruised and battered body had been found in a pool of gasoline
in his mother's garage. The LA Coroner improbably ruled Fuller's
death a suicide secondary to gasoline ingestion, though this theory
was believed by few, if any.

I first heard the alternative theory of Fuller's death, proposed by
John Kaye in THE DEAD CIRCUS, during a telephone conversation a few
years ago with an elderly gentleman who, dying of cancer, relayed
in a pained long distance whisper a story of anger, jealousy, and
revenge. The teller of this tale, a man who had hovered around the
flame of fame and fortune but who had never felt its warmth, was
insistent that Fuller's death was a mob hit, performed at the
behest of a well-known entertainer. The tale, however, as relayed
that night, did not quite make sense. Leave it to Kaye, and THE
DEAD CIRCUS, to connect the dots and fill in some additional
blanks.

THE DEAD CIRCUS is the second of what will be at least a trilogy of
novels dealing with Los Angeles in the last half of the 20th
Century. The first book in the trilogy, STARS SCREAMING, introduced
the Burk Family: Norm, owner of what is repeatedly described as the
best newsstand in Los Angeles; his sons Gene, an ex-cop who quit
the LA Police department the day after attending the Monterey Pop
Festival and who is now a private investigator and avid record
collector, and Ray, a screenwriter; and Ray's son Louie, an
aspiring actor. STARS SCREAMING primarily concerned Ray; THE DEAD
CIRCUS is primarily concerned with Gene. Although it is not
necessary to read STARS SCREAMING before THE DEAD CIRCUS, it
wouldn't be a bad idea, simply to fully appreciate the kismet that
follows these principals like some restless spirit throughout their
lives.

Gene was assigned to investigate the Fuller death while he was
still with the LA Police Department. He was never satisfied with
the official conclusion regarding Fuller's death; in 1986, his
simmering obsession boils over, heated by an a personal tragedy of
his own, and he begins calling in chits to follow the cold trail of
Fuller's death. His obsession causes him to cross paths with a
member of Charles Manson's family, who leads him down another path
to a second mystery. There have been rumors for years that Manson
had videotapes of Hollywood celebrities engaging in sexual acts
with members of his family. Gene discovers that these rumors are
true --- and that the tapes still exist. Along the way, Gene
discovers what appears to be the penultimate truth behind Fuller's
death, a truth that will never be revealed to the public at
large.

Kaye has a knack for weaving rumor and innuendo into the fabric of
history --- hard as it may be to believe, 1985 is, indeed, history
--- and utilizing the theory of six degrees of separation to create
a compelling story out of the stuff of happenstance and
coincidence. One additional element never mentioned in THE DEAD
CIRCUS is that Kaye, ironically, bears the same name as the lead
singer of one of LA's premiere rock bands, that being John Kay of
Steppenwolf. Neither the singer, nor the band, is mentioned in THE
DEAD CIRCUS; the temptation to include him, and them, must have
been a difficult one to overcome. THE DEAD CIRCUS, in any event, is
a fictional walk through a history that ultimately may not be true,
but is most certainly accurate. Hopefully, we will not have to wait
another five years for its sequel, though any wait, no matter how
long, will almost certainly be worth it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

The Dead Circus
by John Kaye

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871138492
  • ISBN-13: 9780871138491