A fearless black-bag publicist exposes the belly of the L.A. beast…
Welcome to Mae Pruett’s Los Angeles, where “Nobody talks. But everybody whispers.” As a “black-bag” publicist tasked not with letting the good news out but keeping the bad news in, Mae works for one of LA’s most powerful and sought-after crisis PR firms, at the center of a sprawling web of lawyers, PR flaks, and private security firms she calls “The Beast.” They protect the rich and powerful and depraved by any means necessary.
After her boss is gunned down in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel in a random attack, Mae takes it upon herself to investigate and runs headfirst into The Beast’s lawless machinations and the twisted systems it exists to perpetuate. It takes her on a roving neon joyride through a Los Angeles full of influencers pumped full of pills and fillers; sprawling mansions footsteps away from sprawling homeless encampments; crooked cops and mysterious wrecking crews in the middle of the night.
Jordan Harper writes superb neo-noir novels, and Everybody Knows is a perfect example. It’s an incisive, gritty examination of how the Hollywood business can erode a person’s morals and standards, all in service to The Beast.
Long-time readers of CR will no doubt have noticed that I love crime, thriller and mystery novels set in Los Angeles, and particularly those related to the entertainment industries. In Everybody Knows, Harper takes the crisis PR side of the industry as his focus. This makes the novel very timely — considering the ongoing revelations and drawn-out court cases related to monstrous behaviour by those in power in LA and Hollywood, it’s not difficult to see what might have inspired some of Harper’s plot points and antagonist behaviours.
The novel has two protagonists, each working slightly different sides of the The Beast’s operations. First, there’s Mae, a flak who works for one of the biggest and most powerful crisis PR firms. Through her eyes, we learn of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring and scheming that is deployed to reshape the public narrative about this or that celebrity scandal. After all, each slip-up by the talent doesn’t only affect the star; the industry has to keep moving, generating profit, after all. Enter the flaks: deployed to manipulate the conversation about this drug-fuelled party, or that car crash, or whatever other misbehaviour the stars get up to. Mae has become pretty cynical, but retains a shred of self-respect and introspection. However, as the novel progresses, it’s made clear that her ambition remains powerful, too.
“I don’t know if this is the place for you. Why? You asked about right and wrong.”
Our other POV character is Chris, a disgraced former cop, now an enforcer for The Beast. He’s huge, intimidating, and resigned to his role in the industry. (The description made me think that Dwayne Johnson would be a great casting choice, in terms of size and presence.) He’s conflicted about his role, just as Mae is, but he has more desire to get out and try to create a new life from himself outside of the business and probably also away from the Los Angeles. He’s tired, broken (so many times), and doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a thug-for-hire. At the same time, through his eyes and internal monologue, we learn how powerful is the pull of the law enforcement community. He’s brutally honest about how intoxicating that macho environment was for him, despite also recognizing how toxic it is. (I thought this was a particularly interesting aspect of the story.)
Both Mae and Chris investigate the fallout of the Mae’s boss’s death, at first independently, but inevitably their missions converge. As it happens, they also have a history, which sort-of rekindles over the course of the book. It’s a romance, of sorts, but by no means a Hollywood-ending type. Over the course of their moves, the two characters come into contact with some of the worst people in LA and the industry, and learn how fickle loyalties are — especially if there’s the chance to get ahead.
Harper’s prose and plotting are excellent, and the novel moves at a steady pace — you’ll get through it quickly because you won’t want to stop reading, but it’s by no means rushed. Mae and Chris’s investigation progresses steadily, as they’re taken further into the deepest and darkest corners of The Beast and what it will do to protect itself. They’re confronted with the worst that money and fame can “excuse” in America (that is, consequences from which money can insulate those who have it).
A dark, gritty, and gripping read. Very highly recommended.
Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows is due to be published by Mulholland Books in North America, on January 10th, 2023. (Strangely, I couldn’t find a UK listing for this novel; but I did find The Last King of California. Which is not available in North America… So weird.)
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Review copy received via NetGalley