The Cruel City by Joe Mackey. Belmont (1960), 159 pp.
Bill Chappell, a reporter from New York, is briefly visiting Los Angeles to find a writing job in the film industry. He’s staying with well-connected Lou London, a caricaturist who likes to party. Bill decides he should join in the fun, so he starts drinking again and goes on the prowl for some female companionship. He spends time with friends whose marriages seem untraditionally open: screenwriter Manny Gilman and his wife Regina, PR man Randy Dietz and his wife Phyllis. He also meets Fabian, an affable gay guy. No one helps very much with the job search. But Lou offers assistance on the other quest, pointing Bill toward Monique, a part-time hooker with a congenial personality.
The story focuses on Bill. He’s in every scene, and only his thoughts are relayed to the reader. That would be fine if his behavior made sense, but it just doesn’t. His job search is incoherent and his pursuit of Monique is needlessly feeble. Which could be explained by Bill’s persistent inebriation -- he’s drinking through most of the novel -- but that interpretation leaves the author with a book about alcoholism not Hollywood, his real target. The ancillary characters are soused most of the time too. They rattle on in pointless conversation or, in the case of Fabian, get frisky in a way that could fuel homophobic dread. Only Monique is portrayed in enough depth to elicit the reader’s sympathy. It’s a shame the book isn’t about her.