Dead Extra By Sean Carswell, 253 pgs.

Aug 05, 2019

For most of my life, I didn’t realize I enjoyed detective novels. It should’ve made sense that I would enjoy them: noir is my favorite film genre. In reviewing Nelson George’s To Funk and Die in LA last year for Razorcake,I came to realize how much I enjoy the genre. I especially like books set in the 1940s, which is the beginning of the noir genre in film. Those set around L.A. are even better.

Thus, I found Razorcake co-founder and columnist Sean Carswell’s latest novel to be a perfect fit, as it checked all the boxes. A detective story, set in the 1940s in and around Los Angeles? I couldn’t have been happier.

The chapters go back and forth between the male lead, Jack Chesley, and his wife, Wilma. Jack comes back from World War II in 1946 after being in a POW camp in Germany to find that Wilma died a few years earlier. Wilma’s chapters take place in 1943 and expose the reader to the reasons for her demise. This back and forth not only gives one a path to follow along with the story, but also gives agency to a female character and allows her to explain her life instead of having it done through a male character’s lens. I appreciated that point of view because it gives the reader an opportunity to see things from a perspective that is atypical for detective books, which is normally male character dominated.

Detective stories are a new genre for Carswell, but one that he pulls off well. His prose is tight, as is the dialogue. While some of the typical language of many detective films and books from the ’40s was used (“dame,” “lugs” as another name for hired muscle, “kitten” as a name for a cute woman), it wasn’t heavy-handed.

Carswell’s talent for this genre is surprising and impressive. His ability to create an environment that is authentic immersed me in the tale. I had an understanding of the locations and a feel for what was surrounding the characters. The pace is quick and this is literally one of those times I can genuinely say I didn’t want to put a book down. Great stuff and highly recommended. –Kurt Morris (Prospect Park Books, 2359 Lincoln Ave., Altadena, CA 91001)