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The Dead Circus Hardcover – July, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A seemingly ordinary tragedy plunges an ex-cop-turned-detective into the murky, bizarre world of the Manson family in screenwriter and film director Kaye's second novel, an overplotted but riveting noir thriller set mostly in 1960s and '70s Los Angeles. The action begins in 1986, when former LAPD cop Gene Burk (brother of Ray Burk, the central figure in Kaye's debut, Stars Screaming) is shattered by the death of his fianc‚e, a flight attendant named Alice Hanson, in an airline crash. When Burk inherits her effects, he discovers some letters that link her to a fictional woman from the Manson cult named Alice McMillan. Burk is able to connect McMillan's comings and goings to the death of '60s rockabilly star Bobby Fuller, whose mysterious demise possibly ordered by Frank Sinatra when the star dated Sinatra's daughter is an obsession of Burk's. Kaye populates his novel with enough suspects and shady Hollywood characters to fill two murder mysteries, but the story remains reasonably tight despite the abundance of characters and the presence of several tangential subplots. Kaye does a nice job with scenes of real-life entertainers, and the lurid details of Manson's decadent lifestyle add narrative momentum. While the climax doesn't quite justify the buildup, there are some chilling final sequences. Kaye could stand to rein in his tendency for busy plotting, but this book packs a major wallop nonetheless.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

(*Starred Review*) This evocative novel is a sequel of sorts to Kaye's earlier book, Stars Screaming (1997), which focused on screenwriter Ray Burk. Set in 1986, this one focuses on Ray's older brother, Gene, who has just lost his fiancee in an airplane crash. Afraid that he will lose himself entirely to his grief, Gene starts to obsess about the 20-year-old mysterious death of rockabilly newcomer Bobby Fuller. He had worked the case, unsuccessfully, when he was a cop with the LAPD, and as he begins to reopen old leads, he starts to shake up the wrong people, putting his own life in danger. He is also contacted by a former member of the Manson family who needs his help in putting that life behind her once and for all. Kaye calls up a richly atmospheric and surprisingly small-town version of L.A., where everyone seems to be connected and who becomes famous is completely arbitrary. Masterfully creating and sustaining a palpable, pure, elegiac paean to lost hopes and dreams, Kaye seems to suggest that the human impulse toward yearning and hopefulness can exist unmarred by and side by side with rampant corruption and pure evil. Although Kaye himself is a screenwriter, his literary narrative can legitimately be called anti-Hollywood because it never feels forced and is entirely unpredictable. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st edition (July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138491
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Keith Nichols on December 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In this compelling yarn, a group of disparate Hollywood denizens - including minor crooks, an ex-cop, an alcoholic screenwriter, a member of the Charles Manson clan, and others - live lives inhabited and motivated by memories of their youth. The ostensible plot has to do with the ex-cop, Gene Burk, finding out who years ago murdered a popular rock-and-roll musician, but in fact the story is more that of Burk's attempt to reconstruct the early life of his fiancee, who has died in a plane crash. Charles Manson and the violence he instigated figure heavily in the story, but Manson emerges as a sort of twisted philosopher/poet of the corruption that infects everyone. Manson seems to be only the most corrupted among a cast of damaged characters in a town where violence and predation abound. The author's skill at evoking the names and events of Hollywood in mid-twentieth century make this an intriguing novel rather than just another sordid tale.
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Format: Hardcover
To be fair, I enjoyed reading this book. I went through it in two days. My interest in the book was based in the fact that I was from El Paso and a Bobby Fuller fan. I eagerly read the book and kept waiting for a plausible theory or investigation into Bobby Fuller's mysterious death but it never came. The plot veered off into the Manson murders, again with no new information or resolution to the case. I thought the plot was all over the place and maybe that is to be expected. That may be in reality the actions of someone who lost their loved one in an accident. Gene Burk seemed to go in all directions with no focus--as would be expected by someone in grief.
The characters seemed somewhat shallow and not well developed. Was that a reflection of the shallow nature of the music and entertainment industry of the 1960's or a problem with the author's style--I couldn't decide. I do think there was far too much 'name dropping' and trying to weave Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, and other famous musicians into the storyline as minor players when it would have been better to develop the characters or the plot in more depth.
There were at least four subplots: 1) getting over his personal loss, 2) solving the Fuller murder, 3) the Manson murders and 4) the corruption of the LAPD. None of these were fully developed or resolved to my satisfaction. The ending of the book tied them all together but not in a convincing manner I felt.
However, as I said I found it compelling and read it in two days. my personal disappointment may stem from the fact that I thought it would be an expose on the Bobby Fuller murder and cover up. For those without that expectation it's a good read.
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Format: Hardcover
The Dead Circus is fun reading. Gene Burk, a 40ish ex-LA cop in the mid-eighties, mourning the death of his fiance in a plane crash, decides to solve the one unsolved "crime" from his life as a cop that still haunts him--the apparent suicide of Bobby Fuller. Kaye' story is sort of all over the map--jumping from character to character, discussing three events in one short paragraph--but somehow it's not overly confusing. Burk's quest brings him into the warped and bizarre world of Charles Manson. The Dead Circus is an unpredictible story that starts off almost as a standard crime novel and then goes into something unto itself. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first 250 pages or so of this book were incredible, this was the best book at that point since Ken Grimwood's Replay- John Kaye's writing and subject were incredible at this point- he combined Bobby Fuller, Charles Manson, Frank Sinatra into a fascinating novel that made it sound like he was there but the last 50 pages were pathetic, like the guy was sick and just called in these pages. What the flunk! I was waiting for a climax- there wasn't one. Because the first 250 pages or so were great, I recommend you buy this book but beware of the last 50 or so pages-a major dissapointment.
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