Sunday 3 January 2021

Always the Dead - Stephen J. Golds


Los Angeles, California. 1949.

Scott Kelly is a World War Two Marine veteran and mob hitman confined to a Tuberculosis sanatorium suffering from consumption, flashbacks and nightmares from his experiences of The Battle of Okinawa and a botched hit for Bugsy Siegel.

When his movie actress girlfriend disappears, he bribes his way out of the sanatorium to search for her.

What follows is a frantic search, a manic murder spree, stolen contraband, and a briefcase full of cash.

A story that stretches from the war torn beaches of Okinawa, all the way to the playground of the rich and famous, Palm Springs, California.

An exploration into the depths of L.A crime, PTSD and twisted love.

A semi-fictional novel based around the disappearance of Jean Spangler.

What did I think?

I discovered Stephen J. Golds books when I was drawn like a moth to the flame to the cover of his brilliant novel Say Goodbye When I'm Gone but I have to say that the postcard cover of Always the Dead is absolutely breathtaking.  Always the Dead has the same vintage thriller feel to it and although it is a little darker, I consider it to be his best book yet; I've honestly never read anything like it before.

I don't know how he does it, but reading Always the Dead is like watching an old black and white movie with a New York twanged narrator.  I was absolutely flabbergasted that such authentic vintage scenes could be conjured from such very well chosen words, which is solely due to the immense talent of Stephen J. Golds.

The main character of Scott Kelly is one that you simultaneously fear yet root for.  Scott is a war veteran, clearly suffering from PTSD, but it's his tuberculosis that sees him confined to a sanatorium.  With inner demons waging war inside his head, it's a wonder that Scott can function at all but it's thoughts of his girlfriend Jean that keep him going.  Jean isn't a traditional girlfriend and I found her to be something of an enigma, wondering if we ever see the real side of her.  When Jean disappears, Scott sets off to look for her, settling a few old scores along the way. but his physical and mental health deteriorate rapidly.

It wasn't until after I finished reading Always the Dead, that I found out that it was inspired by the true story of the disappearance of Jean Spangler.  Off to google I went and, as I often say, I love books that send me off researching fascinating stories or facts.  Jean being a real actress makes this book even more authentic and it would make an amazing movie, in black and white of course.

Brilliantly written with a vintage feel, Always the Dead is dark, gritty and compulsive reading.  Stephen J. Golds is a hugely talented author and definitely one to watch.  A well deserved five stars and highly recommended reading.

Many thanks to Stephen J. Golds for sending me an early copy to read; all opinions in this review are my own.

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