“If America is a lunatic asylum then California is the… Violent Ward.” Len Deighton’s Violent Ward, which takes place during the Rodney King trial and subsequent verdict and riots not only captures the moment, but the chaotic false bravado of Hollywood as well.
Our main character through this fiction is Mickey Murphy, a lawyer and perhaps the most genuine character in the book. That’s certainly saying something, considering the contempt that every other character in the book has for lawyers.
However, there is one thing that this book – and by conjecture we can guess that Deighton feels similarly – finds less appealing than lawyers: Hollywood. It’s in the writing:
- “I suppose only someone permanently out of touch with reality tried for the movie big time in Hollywood.”
- “Well, I’ve always been interested in directing,” said Danny.
“Of course you have,” I said. “Being interested in directing is as near as anyone can get to being jobless without the stigma of unemployment.”
- “They know all the shots: ‘We’ll take the umbrella scene from Hitchcock, the baby carriage sequence from Eisenstein, the sunrise from David Lean, the horsemen from Peckinpah.’ The trouble is they haven’t got one original idea in their head; all they know is camera angles.”
Those are just three examples, two of my favorite examples if I’m honest. But this book is at heart a bit of a thriller and a mystery. The back cover, written as a letter from Mickey to the potential reader, is brilliant.
Hear me out, buddy. They say: If America is a lunatic asylum then California is the Violent Ward. This is the place where Rodney King gets prime time. My name is Murphy and I’m a Mick lawyer with an ex-wife who sends her astrologer around demanding money so she can pay off her orthodontist. My kid has hocked his 9mm Browning using false ID, I’m in love with the wife of my wealthiest client and the cops are trying to pin a nasty homicide on me.
But there’s no recession in the crime industry and my busi- ness is fine, or it might be if my German secretary could write and speak English, and my clients didn’t get wasted before they paid my bills. The kind of crooks I defend never plead the Fifth because they can’t count that far.
Okay, okay: So nobody loves a lawyer.
See ya in court.
This book may read like satire at times, but it’s commentary in fiction as best as I can tell. Given this book’s lack of respect towards Hollywood, which is much more prevalent than it was for Deighon’s previous Hollywood-based novel Close-Up,
I have to say that it’s kind of disappointing that that’s the end of it. The remaining three books of his I haven’t read are the final Samson-verse trilogy.
I cannot recommend Close Up or Violent Ward enough for those who enjoy Hollywood and even those who hate it.
The realism of the Rodney King trial gripping everyone and all the ancillary characters in Violent Ward is a striking reality, made even more poignant when the verdict is read and the riots begin. This is historical facts merging with fiction to create a novel that reads like a film. It’s also paced like a film, and probably should be optioned.
In the meantime, Violent Ward is yours for the reading.