Let There Be Linda by Rich Leder begins with a poodle being thrown out of a window on an L.A. freeway. Brothers Mike and Dan Miller, one an almost-respectable accountant and one a completely crooked talent agent get embroiled in a caper with many angles: a missing $75,000, a brutal loan shark swarf and his much bigger sidekick, a coke-addled dentist, and other denizens of the sweat-infused San Fernando Valley. Add to that a girl who can raise the dead and you have a novel that’s part crime fiction, part satire, and the strangest supernatural story you’ve ever read. A wildly inventive and surprising novel from a comedic writer who has really outdone himself.
Having read Leder’s McCall & Company series, which takes place in New York, the setting of the L.A. Valley is a perfect locale for Leder to up the notch of lunacy, making the eccentric characters in his other work seem buttoned up. There’s no crazy like L.A. crazy, and it really lets Leder spread his comedic wings.
Why the novel is so effective is the lunacy is cumulative. If you read the first half of this book, you’ll find a fairly straightforward crime novel. Sure, a girl is raising animals from the dead, but only a goldfish. More to the point, the caper involves stolen money and well-drawn but still recognizable low-lives. Leder is a master at making the absurd seem plausible, which is very important for comedy. Too crazy and it will come off as surrealism. By the time you’re buried in this fever dream, the second half of the book takes on a strange reality as it descends into chaos.
If anything, there’s too much of a slow burn before the real fireworks start. It’s fairly easy to see where the book is going once raising from the dead becomes a plot point, and the book takes a fair amount of time between its introduction and the climax. Though the novel is plenty crazy throughout, there was more Leder could have taken on with the novel earlier in the book. Leder spends a lot of time on the criminal characters and less time on his necromancer, when she may be the most interesting character in the novel.
Likewise, his criminal characters are off the wall, but perhaps not eccentric enough. The dwarf loan shark is a nice touch for a carnival atmosphere, but also feels somewhat familiar – not quite insane enough to stand out from other satirical-edged L.A. crime fiction characters. An argument could be made that some familiarity grounds the novel in reality, but Leder’s so good with offbeat characters that there is some allowance to take his characters even one step further.
However, once all the disparate pieces come together, the novel coalesces into an intensely satisfying and surprising climax. Whatever predictability there was earlier on in the book is rendered moot. It’s something like a comedic car chase: breakneck speed, and you never know what’s coming around the corner. By the end, Leder is juggling a number of different characters, plot points, and moods, and he does it so expertly well. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, and your heart will pound all at once. Let There Be Linda is a hugely entertaining book from one of the more inventive crime writers to come along in a while.