Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“Read to Me”

It’s every novelist’s nightmare. You write your first book, and it sells well, even makes you think that you’re something special. Then you try to re-create the magic in a sophomore outing, only to have it bomb. Miserably. As protagonist Kevin Dangler (Eric Altheide) explains in Remaindered, a short independent film directed by author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg:
When my first book, Frost Bite, came out five years ago, Publishers Weekly called me “the reincarnation of James M. Cain at the peak of his literary powers.” The hardcover went back into five printings before going to paperback. It was translated into a dozen languages, including Urdu. I bought a big house and matching BMWs for me and my wife. I thought my second novel, Do Unto Others, was my best work. The Los Angeles Times called it “a 778-page suicide note for a once-promising writing career.” That was the best review I got.
We learn in this movie that the discouraged Dangler is now hustling his works--including a self-published third novel, Twisted Sheets, about “an insomniac student who volunteers for a sleep study, only to find himself involved in an erotic relationship with a female researcher that leads to murder”--from tables set up in drug and grocery stores across the fat middle of Middle America. (The picture was shot around Owensboro, Kentucky.) But his luck is about to change--for the worse.

Remaindered premiered during Bouchercon in San Francisco earlier this month, but for reasons I don’t remember, I missed seeing it there. Fortunately, Goldberg has since made it available to a few bloggers and critics, including Bill Crider, Paul Bishop, and yours truly. I’m glad he did, because despite Remaindered’s brevity (it’s just over 20 minutes long) and its apparently meager budget, it’s a clever reminder of fame’s fleeting promise and hoary warnings about there being no such thing as a perfect crime.

The story begins as Dangler peddles copies of his books in yet another small-town food mart, on occasion having to defend himself against readers who’ve never heard of him but nonetheless think he’d be better off penning novels in which cats solve homicides. At his lowest moment, however, he is approached by an attractive fan, a blond librarian named Megan (Sebrina Siegel), who admits, “I’ve wanted to meet you for so long. I think you are the greatest writer.” Dangler is flattered, of course--enough so that he accepts Megan’s invitation to drop by her house for a look through her extensive collection of signed, first-edition mysteries. This may be the only time you’ll ever hear the dictate “Read to me” uttered quite so seductively.

Telling more about Goldberg’s plot would spoil its many criminal and comic delights. And even though I immediately caught the mistake on which this story’s conclusion depends, I never lost interest in its unfolding. Remaindered may not be a mammoth Hollywood production, but Goldberg--whose TV-writing credits include Diagnosis: Murder, Monk, Spenser: For HireThe Cosby Mysteries, and A Nero Wolfe Mystery--has invested no less attention in its crafting because of that.

Remaindered has evidently been entered in several film festivals, but I hope it also receives wider distribution. It’s a quirky, fun picture that members of the crime-fiction community are sure to enjoy.

UPDATE: You can finally watch Remaindered online.

1 comment:

Lee Goldberg said...

Thank you so much for the great review! I hope that the film festival judges like the movie as much as you did.