Glitz, glamour, and the grime this is Jackson Hardy's beat as he shills for the tabloid magazine Our Spinning World. Toss a ghost named Madame Blue into the mix, squeeze the special sauce out of a few forlorn celebrities, shake until buzzing, and watch that bad publicity bubble over. It's all part of the gig. Struggling to put on the air of an alcoholic and enjoying the scowls from his jealous officemates, Hardy wickedly cultivates the stereotype. It's an image he's grown fond of fanning the flames to create. But when that almost-forgotten tingle of journalistic integrity starts nibbling away at his comfortable routine, the muckraking master is soon wandering through underground tunnels, looking over his shoulder for hired goons, dodging buckets of ink, and questioning his place atop the tabloid throne. Can the man behind the magazine climb his way out of the pit he's happily been digging most of his professional career?
Bad Publicity, by Brian C. Baer, is a modern twist on the hardboiled noir detective story. The book centers on Jackson Hardy, a grizzled alcoholic unraveling a mystery who contends with his fair share of femme fatales and massive thugs. It all sounds very Dashiell Hammett except for the particulars.
Jackson Hardy isn’t a P.I.—he’s a tabloid reporter, and he’s not a very good one on his own.* One of the femme fatales is a ghost named Madame Blue who feeds him his sordid tidbits about movie stars. It’s these clever subversions that make Bad Publicity worth reading. Where noir literature was always a wry satire of its times—a reflection of the lose-lose nihilism of post-Depression American life—Baer’s writing sends up today’s empty fishbowl fascination with celebrity culture. To this end, making Hardy a tabloid reporter is a brilliant update of the genre.
The book follows Jackson Hardy as his use of Madame Blue (by way of an unplugged fax machine) lands him a string of high profile tabloid stories. But with those stories come ruined careers and retaliation from the movie stars he writes about. As Jackson digs deeper with Madame Blue’s help, things get stranger, questions about these celebrities pile up, and the plot twists and turns.
The structural criticisms that can be leveled against Bad Publicity are largely the same ones that can be leveled against noir fiction in general: the women characters lack dimension, and its cast is as White as fresh-fallen arctic snow. In updating the conventions of the genre, Baer could have included some diversity to his cast. Regarding the female characters, a case could be made that Jackson is, for much of the book, a drunk and emotional mess, and therefore an unreliable narrator in terms of what these women are actually like. No such excuse can be made for the lack of characters of color, though.
That said, the characters we get are well-drawn enough that they held my interest. I was particularly impressed by Jackson’s evolving relationship to Madame Blue, who grows stronger and more corporeal over the course of the book. Also of interest was Fitzgerald, presented as Jackson’s one stable friend over the course of the book.** And, last but certainly not least, a brief interlude where we meet Jackson’s estranged ex-wife proved extremely enlightening. Layla was a fascinating creature who deserved her own book, in my opinion, and enriched this one.
If you’re looking for a well-paced paranormal thriller with roots in hardboiled detective fiction, Bad Publicity will scratch that itch.
*At least not when he’s drunk, which is usually the case. When he dries out, he proves he can do the legwork without Madame Blue’s help.
Jackson Hardy is a hack writer for the supermarket tabloid ‘Our Spinning World’. He claims to be after the truth, but in this sensationalist rag, Bad Publicity is what generates sales. His current target is silver screen icon Zachary Bachman, Jr. and his goal is to find a scandal -at any cost. Jackson’s search for a tantalizing headline puts him in contact with an eclectic group of characters: The fawning receptionist, Melodie, his ex-wife, Layla, media darling, Lisandra Clarke, falling starlet, Red Bellaire, and the spectral ‘Madame Blue’ all aid him in his quest in one way or another, but as he soon discovers, not always with his best interests in mind. As he gathers ever more dirt on Bachman, Hardy begins to realize that there may be more to Bachman’s story than just a two-bit, hack headline.
Baer has a penchant for metaphors and uses them to brilliantly portray the characters and locations in Bad Publicity. Baer has a sharp, concise writing style which allows him to masterfully weave each scene in vivid detail. Bad Publicity is a story worthy of the big screen, with an interesting and unique plot that kept me guessing from start to finish. Each of the characters has a depth that really brought them to life and left me wanting to know more about them. The tantalizing complexity of the characters left me feeling that the story wasn’t quite finished when the last scene ended. With elements of a ghost story, love story and hard-boiled detective novel, Bad Publicity has a little something for everyone.
How to describe this..part noir (with a modern setting) and part ghost story. Sort of LA CONFIDENTIAL meets GHOST, except in this case the ghost is a bat-shit crazy dead lady who communicates with the protagonist (one Jackson Hardy) via his fax machine to give him tips on the celebrities he writs about in his sensational, Hollywood rag. An entertaining read from end to end with snark and sarcasm and a slowly unfolding mystery involving nattily dressed businessmen, smoking hot damsels in distress, and some of the hottest names in Hollywood caught being bad. Not my typical cup of tea but one I definitely enjoyed.
Bad Publicity was a very fun book to read. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the flamboyant tabloid articles and the overly dramatic movie stars with Jackson's attempt at a mundane everyday life. There were unexpected twists and turns throughout the book that kept me guessing right up until the end. From mistresses to ghosts to explosions to mysterious friends, this book has everything you could possibly want!
I don't read a lot of paranormal fiction, but Brian C. Baer did a great job with Bad Publicity, a book about a man with a pretty crazy sort of life. Jackson Hardy, the main character works for a tabloid and he's got a ghost who thinks he's her darling. If that's not enough, there's a mystery to solve in the case of some bad publicity for few famous people. It's is a quick read!