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Keith Edward Vaughn
The Loneliest Places
Years since inheriting his famous father's private investigation agency, Ellis Dunaway is a man out of time. He is also out of money, clients, and control of his drug habit. A simple favor for his coke dealer—finding out what happened to the guy he let stay in his Malibu rental house—sets off a series of increasingly violent encounters as the missing man turns out to be connected to one of L.A.'s most powerful families and a brutal cartel called the Black Fist. Traversing the city in his father’s classic Porsche—from yacht clubs to shopping malls to soundstages—the case gets progressively complicated and personal, demanding that Ellis confront his failures as a boyfriend, a one-time screenwriter, a detective, and a son. When he discovers that his father was investigating the Black Fist before his sudden, suspicious death, everything changes. Or, worse yet, nothing changes, and history repeats itself.
Set in the least glamorous locales of Los Angeles, this sun-kissed noir, Vaughn’s debut, centers on Ellis Dunaway, disgraced screenwriter, reluctant private investigator, and a man who can't move on from his failures in love, business or sobriety. Ellis inherited the private investigation agency from his father, a fortuitous gift as Ellis's brief and slightly shining career as a screenwriter is in the rear view mirror of his 1987 Porsche, likewise inherited. His work in Hollywood is DOA, so when his coke dealer requests that Ellis find out what happened to a man who was living in his rental property, there are no good reasons to refuse.

After discovering that the missing man was involved with the Black Fist, a powerful cartel, Ellis meets a foreboding cast who bring danger and violence to the investigation. The case turns personal, as Ellis discovers a surprising family connection, but the storytelling always is, as Ellis narrates in crisp, wry, fleet-moving prose—and faces friends and loved ones who are beginning to distance themselves from the spiral Ellis has chosen to ride out. His secretary, Reshma, is especially compelling, a character readers will hope secures a happier ending than her beginning would suggest.

Before an ending that offers welcome promise, Ellis’s own future doesn’t look much brighter than his present, as for most of the book he seems to have made his decision to wallow in the memory of all the big breaks and moments that haven't gone his way, despite the pain this brings to those he cares about. The title suggests Dorothy B. Hughes’s marvelous In a Lonely Place, but Vaughn’s Los Angeles is less dreamy, its sunsets shining on dog waste. Vaughn’s especially good at conjuring made-up cultural product, the junk that Hollywood would rather make than anything Ellis ever pitched, and frequent mentions of real shows and songs, including a disquisition on 1991 hits by Bryan Adams and Swing Out Sister, find Ellis drowning in pop. Here’s hoping this promising series soon finds him in a better place.

Takeaway: Promising series starter of a reluctant detective embroiled in L.A. noir.

Comparable Titles: Phoef Sutton’s Heart Attack and Vine, Timothy Hallinan’s Nighttown.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A