Simeon Grist, the hero of six gritty Los Angeles private eye novels by Timothy Hallinan, is about to get a hell of a shock in Pulped, the latest book in this fine series. He’s going to find out that he is a fictional character. All of his heroics, investigative skills, and snappy dialogue were never his. They were written for him.
“It felt to me―it still feels to me―like I was in charge,” he says mournfully, “like I was really risking everything and doing everything I could to stay alive. Solving all those problems on my own.”
To make matters worse, all the unsold Grist novels have been pulped – pulled from the market, ground up, and recycled into cheap newsprint. As a result, Grist finds himself caught in a mysterious limbo, where out-of-print fictional characters slowly fade away.
Still worse, when their last few readers no longer open their books, the characters vanish from this literary limbo as if they had never existed.
So when one of Grist’s few remaining readers is murdered, he finds himself channeling a snatch of Sam Spade’s dialog from The Maltese Falcon: “When a detective’s reader is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your reader and you’re supposed to do something about it.”
And so, of course, he sets out to do just that.
Hallinan, who as Grist’s creator is a character himself in this wildly inventive novel, emailed me a copy and asked for my thoughts. Here they are:
Pulped is at once a gritty private detective yarn, an enchanting fantasy, an unconventional love story, a laugh out loud comedy, and an insightful exploration of the nature of storytelling—a triumph of imagination told in prose as precise as a sniper’s rifle by a novelist with the soul of a poet.
Most of Hallinan’s work, including his outstanding Poke Rafferty and Junior Bender crime novels, have been released by major publishers, but he is self-publishing this one, and it became available in paperback, Kindle, and audio editions last week. You can order it here.