Quick Reads

Robert Ferrigno and Z.Z. Packer.

MULHOLLAND DIVE Kirkland writer Robert Ferrigno brings back the main character from his 2001 novel Flinch in Scavenger Hunt (Pantheon, $24.95). Jimmy Gage is a reporter for SLAP, a slick, tell-all Hollywood magazine. Also back is his love interest, Jane, a brilliant and subtle police detective. New is Sugar, whom the author, at a recent reading, called "the nicest bad guy you've ever met, the nicest monster." Along for the ride is a cavalcade of crazies: Rollo, a 19-year-old filmmaking savant who can't seem to get any exposure or a date, but who makes a fine sidekick; non-blond twin almost-starlets; Hollywood's usual suspects (the powerful and gloriously has-beens, the never-quite-hitting-it agent, the porn king); and Nino, Jimmy's wealthy boss, who sets the entire wild carousel in motion. One of Nino's see-and-be-seen parties triggers a scavenger hunt for items including an Oscar. Jimmy and Rollo pursue a statuette from a notorious directorjust out of jail for murderwho warns Jimmy about the "most dangerous screenplay in Hollywood." It is dangerous. The director is soon dead, face-down in a koi pondhello, Chinatown referenceand the script is gone. Jimmy investigates, and more people get killed. Ferrigno is a former newspaperman whose characters are consistent and plot believableup to a point. He squints in the klieg lights, moves through the seediest parts of Orange County, and doesn't flinch from the fallout of a gang killingor from Jimmy's faults. He writes, "[Jane] sometimes thought [Jimmy's] journalism was just an excuse to work the middle ground between right and wrong, an opportunity to keep company with the dregs and the desperadoes, the high and the mighty, too." Hunt is an entertaining, borderline trashy read, yet one with strong moral undercurrents. It's a kind of dark, coked-up tale of Hollywood gone bad, an amusing ride with twists, turns, and stomach-lurching moments. Joanne Garrett CAUTION: NO CURVES AHEAD She's hailed as one of America's best young writers and is a veteran of The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Best American Short Stories 2000, but Z.Z. Packer isn't necessarily doing anything new. Or exciting. In Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (Riverhead, $24.95), Packer tells plain stories with plain prose. She pulls out allegory more often than Aesop, and her plot twists are more like gentle turns you see coming from miles away. Still, sometimes there's something pleasing about Packer's kind of stories even though you might be kind of irritated at how formulaic they are. Well, sometimes. The first sentence of the collection's first story, "Brownies," gives the whole thing away: "By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909." Oooh, can't you already smell the trouble turning back on the narrator's troop and biting them all in the butt? The narrator and her fellow Brownies are black, and the other troop is whitebut a face-off in the latrine near the close of the story reveals that the white girls are mentally challenged, forcing the black girls to face up to their own prejudices. Not exactly the twist of the century, and Packer's extra helping of ethics at the end of it makes the entire story pretty difficult to swallow. Another story, "Geese," is one of those vaguely romantic yet violent and ugly ex-pat accounts of life abroad. This time we get Dina, an apologetic black woman from Baltimore who takes off for Japan. There, broke and alone, she shacks up with a generous but equally broke Filipino man and an ominous, creepy couple (a model and a body builder from the Eastern Bloc). When hunger eventually leads Dina into hooking, you are not the least bit surprised. I've got nothing against simplicity, but Packer's characters are so predictable and her style so straightforward and neatly tucked in that you're left wishing for a road bump or a car wreck or something to disrupt her Sunday driving. Laura Cassidy Z.Z. Packer will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Fri., March 21. info@seattleweekly.com

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