Written by Adam Cesare — There is plenty of crime fiction set in the glamorous world of Hollywood, about egomaniacal auteurs, shady producers and temperamental film stars. Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty and Stuart M Kaminsky’s Toby Peters mystery series are good examples. Funnily enough, there is less written about the micro-budget, download-only horror movie scene where the female leads are aging strippers who can no longer get the prime gigs and the special effects run to a plastic knife and a bottle of ketchup. Enter Cesare then, to change that.
Tony Anastos (whose real first name is Nicholas, but that lacks the requisite Italian-American cool) is in his early 30s and lives in his parents’ basement. He works at the local Stop ‘N’ Shop in the day and makes his films at night. Invariably they are shot in his friend Burt’s lounge with Burt playing his series lead, the psycho-slasher The Debaser. Each movie is about seventy five minutes of topless women being slaughtered with as much gore and as little dialogue or plot as possible. Despite some limited success in his chosen field – hey, he’s got upwards of 500 twitter followers – he can’t get his movies reviewed on the popular sites, and he’s beginning to wonder if he will ever break out.
In to his life then comes Anna, the hot, young-but-legal fan-girl who seems to know all about the scene. Best of all she knows Tony’s work and digs it. She wants to be in his next movie, and Tony can’t believe his luck. Before long they are working on plans together for a new series with a female killer. Tony is a little dismayed that Anna is taking over – she names the role Cat Killer, its her idea for a Kickstarter campaign, she gets flyers printed for a convention – but Tony knows he’s on to a good thing and goes along with it. He doesn’t even protest when Anna, filming their Kickstarter campaign video, actually does slice open Burt’s throat. Anna knows it’s a cut-throat business, and if you want to succeed in movies you have to be prepared to kill the competition.
This is a great black comedy novella which showcases Cesare’s knowledge of both crime and horror, in fiction and film. He reveals his characters’ suspended adolescence and the petty jealousies of the fan-boy world without ever endangering the reader’s concern for Tony. A tough balancing act. Tony is forced to choose between pursuing his dream of making a great horror film or stopping Anna’s killing spree, and it’s fun watching him decide in this cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for.
The First One You Expect is a short one, though the price reflects this. This does mean the emphasis is on action rather than character development and Tony is the only one whose motivations are really explored. None the less it’s a fast, fun read, and I’m pleased Cesare is a horror writer who has moved into crime.
Broken River Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars