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Book Review - Blood on the Wall

Book Review - Blood on the Wall


Blood on the Wall
 A Novel by Deke Houlgate
Feb 10, 2008

Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

Review By Richard Parks

Blood on the Wall is a novel by Deke Houlgate and the background setting is the famed Indy 500 open wheel race at the Brickyard, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Houlgate has been a reporter, writer and public relations person since the early 1950’s. Experts say that a novelist does his best job when part of the hero reflects his own persona. They also say that a writer should write on subjects that he knows best. Houlgate’s alter-ego hero, or anti-hero if you wish, is Jack Allen, who is as flawed, but human as any fictional character. Jack is a reporter for that other paper, the poor cousin of the famous Times in Los Angeles. Blood on the Wall is peppered with characters, large and small, important and obscure, yet woven together in a way that makes them unforgettable. The plot isn’t original, there are other novels with the same themes, but few blood and guts detective stories weave auto racing as seamlessly into the plot as this book does. It’s possible to pick apart the characters, the plot and the loss of an adverb or two and feel that an adequate book review has been done. Normally a reviewer gives the pros and cons at the beginning, then a rating at the end of the review. I’m going to change that and tell you that Blood on the Wall is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. Houlgate has a natural style and his hero, Jack Allen a panache that deserves to be serialized in future novels. What I’m not sure of is whether the author knows  just how good a writer he is and how popular his hero can be. There are plenty of reasons to pan this novel. The author sometimes confuses background with preachiness. The chapters are short and terse, making Hemingway look wordy. There are characters that need more lines and description. The biggest flaw is that Houlgate stops short of telling us more about the real star of Blood on the Wall, the racetrack, reporters, participants and the race itself. 

  All these minor flaws are overwhelmed by the action and story.  Blood on the Wall is a novel that is very readable and hard to put down. There are 36 chapters covering 169 pages and the action is continuous and orderly. The reader can put this book down at any time and then pick it back up and continue reading with no loss in concentration or plot development. I read Blood on the Wall from cover to cover in four hours and found the plot interesting, twisting and turning as a good detective story should be. The story follows Jack Allen as he leaves Los Angeles to cover the Indy 500 in the early 1970’s. Jack says goodbye to Gloria, his drop dead gorgeous live-in girlfriend, as he heads for his plane. Gloria asks him if he will be faithful and avoid the crowds of young racing groupies and Jack avoids her question by asking her if she will stay away from the surfing boy-toys. For novel readers this is a dead giveaway that hanky-panky is right around the corner. For Jack, fidelity endures from the last kiss he gives to Gloria until he eyes Laura on the plane, a married woman with children who is even more gorgeous than his girlfriend. Jack goes from glance to lust to passion and not long after the plane lands, he and Laura find themselves entangled in bed together. Jack is a consummate professional and manages to break away from the lovely Laura long enough to track down stories, attend the press conferences and parties and get himself kidnapped. He breaks one story, finds himself embroiled in theft and drug rings and manages to save several people from doom. The characters peopling Blood on the Wall include Bob the Doorman, the unassuming and kindly old man, Barker and Torquemada, who admit him to the press room. Eric, Sylvester, Delisle, Janice and Eric are part of the Speedway and enmeshed in the stolen pin story. No sooner does Jack solve one problem than another presents itself.

  The author introduces us to Nancy, the beauty queen turned weather girl, an old friend of Jack, the reporter with a girl in every town. Sparks fly, passion rages and yes, Jack double books two ladies for the same sleep-over. Randy reporters and roving sailors are nothing new to literature and we could easily dismiss this as an attempt to sell more books, but we all know men like Jack. Houlgate gives us a wide range of goofy and fascinating characters; Toad, Dinkus, Sheila the Femi-Nazi, hot-tempered Ruell, Fleming the thief, and Di Stefano the Las Vegas hood. There’s murder, kidnapping, theft, lies, infidelity, sex, racism, Ku Klux Klan shenanigans, drug dealing, gang warfare, good and bad cops and many more plot lines. In the end the bad guys lose and the good guys win, but a few innocents get in the way of the turf wars. The Indy 500 is just as wild as real life and the fans drink too much, party too long, and fight too openly at the drop of a hat. Nancy leaves the scene, Gloria becomes a footnote and Laura is beaten by one of the gangsters. The book ends before the race begins for it is the event itself that has grown to legendary proportions and that’s what Houlgate has so successfully portrayed in his novel. I would have liked to see Blood on the Wall fleshed out to around 220 pages and the women given more character. Everything seems to be written from a man’s perspective. The victories and the defeats seem to come too easy, the women too willing to jump into just any man’s arms and the outcomes barely in doubt. Nevertheless, Jack Allen is a reporter with a personality and a nose for news that is just too good to lose after just one novel. Houlgate has to continue the Jack Allen series and give him a Raymond Chandler edginess to him. Here’s a chance to put another character up there with Sam Spade and the other old detectives we love so much. It would be a great loss if Houlgate ended his budding career in novel writing, because Jack Allen can only break more hearts and solve more crimes with growing legions of gorgeous babes ready to try and corral our hero. Blood on the Wall is published by Infinity Publishing at 1-877-BUY BOOK. The ISBN# is 0-7414-4019-9. Price is US $12.95. Rating is 7 out of 8 sparkplugs.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]