By Sean Carswell
Paperback | $16
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PREVIEW DEAD EXTRA: Dead Extra, Chapter One
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A war-scarred veteran investigates the death of his wife with the help of her fiery twin sister—who’s convinced it was murder—on the seedy side of 1940s Hollywood.
The early forties have been a tough time for Jack Chesley. His plane was shot down over Germany and he spent two years in a brutal POW camp. During that time, his wife fell in the tub and died.
Prior to her death, the early forties were even tougher for Jack’s wife, Wilma. After Jack was mistakenly presumed dead, she went on a bender that ended with her wrongful commitment to the Camarillo State Psychiatric Hospital. While there, she took up with an alcoholic socialite, a junkie pianist, and a shady hospital employee who promised her a way out. Only that way out set her on the path to the end of her road.
Now Jack’s back in Los Angeles. His sister-in-law and Wilma’s twin, Gertie, hunts him down to tell him Wilma’s death was no accident: she was murdered. Gertie’s first efforts to find the truth earned her a bullet to the collarbone. But that doesn’t mean Gertie is ready to give up. She knows the right places to look and the right people to ask. She needs Jack, who was a cop for a short time before the war, to stick his nose into these places and ask these questions so that, together, they can figure out who killed Wilma, and why.
Dead Extra follows the parallel storylines of Wilma in the months before her murder in 1944 and Jack and Gertie’s search for the killer in 1946. Their adventures carry them through Hollywood’s second-tier studios, the Camarillo psychiatric hospital, Pasadena mansions, downtown jazz clubs, and one seriously sleazy motor court in Oxnard.
Taking its cues from early noir masters like James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler as well as contemporary neo-noir writers like Walter Mosley and Megan Abbott, Dead Extra explores new shadows on the seedy side of midcentury Southern California.
About the Author
Sean Carswell is the author of several trade books, including Drinks for the Little Guy, Train Wreck Girl, Madhouse Fog, and The Metaphysical Ukulele, and the academic book Occupy Pynchon. He co-founded the independent book publisher Gorsky Press and the music magazine Razorcake. His writing has appeared in such diverse places as the skateboarding magazine Thrasher, tiny ‘zines like Zisk, prestigious literary journals like The Southeastern Review and The Rattling Wall, and peer-reviewed journals like Critical Sociology and The Journal of American Culture. A resident of Ventura, he is an assistant professor of writing and literature at California State University Channel Islands. Learn more at seancarswell.org.
Sean was interviewed on TV! Click here to watch.
Advance Praise for
“Postwar Los Angeles is perhaps the quintessential setting for classic noir—psychically damaged war veterans, victimized women thrust back unwillingly into subservient roles in society, Hollywood’s seamy underbelly claiming tabloid headlines. Carswell brings this familiar terrain to vivid life…. The setup is pure formula, but the tale is something very different. This is feminist noir, with Gertie driving the plot and pushing the reluctant Jack to action. There should be a series here (though the novel is billed as a stand-alone), with Gertie as the lead. Bring it on!”
“Dark, seamy, and complex, Dead Extra is, at first glance, an excellent, faithful foray into old school L.A. noir. Jack Chesley is a hard-drinking former cop and World War II vet, pushed into investigating his wife’s suspicious death by her identical twin sister. But Sean Carswell is a writer who understands this genre well enough to subvert it left and right, particularly when it comes to the dead woman, whose gutsy misadventures occupy almost half of the book. Come for your hardboiled comforts—the violence, the corruption, and the mood are all there, as are the sharp prose and snappy dialogue. Stay for Carswell’s fresh, intelligent point of view.”
— Steph Cha, author of Dead Soon Enough and Follow Her Home
“Sean Carswell has written a moody, atmospheric page-turner that kept me up all night and left me hungover with longing for glamorous, gritty 1940s Los Angeles. Carswell’s shell-shocked, world-weary vet is a realistic protagonist, but it’s the dames who really steal this show.”
— Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Noir editor and author of Damage Control and the Eve Diamond mysteries
“Dead Extra is a refreshing take on classic hardboiled ’40s noir. There’s a world-weary hero who can take a knock and give plenty back, a dead woman with a scandalous past, corrupt cops, and Hollywood scandals, but what’s really striking is the extent to which the story is largely driven by women—not your typical femme fatales, but smart, flawed, determined women with their own dreams, traumas, and stories. Carswell’s women live in a time that limits their ambitions and routinely victimizes them, but they push back in spite of the consequences, finding both tragedies and triumphs.”
— Lisa Brackmann, New York Times–bestselling author of Rock Paper Tiger and Black Swan Rising
“Like a deadly cross between The Day of the Locust and L.A. Confidential, Dead Extra is a stunning exploration of Hollywood’s postwar history: dark, dream-like, and very dangerous. I loved it.”
— Phoef Sutton, New York Times–bestselling author (with Janet Evanovich) of Wicked Charms and Curious Minds and author of the Crush mysteries
“Dirty cops, unscrupulous mental health workers, and shady Hollywood actors—Sean Carswell spins a noirish tale with razor-edged prose and memorable characters who confront sexism, corruption, and the exploitation of the powerless. Dead Extra is a compelling story from the way back when that feels uncomfortably contemporary.”
— Patricia Smiley, author of the Pacific Homicide crime novels
“Carswell weaves an intricate tale that keeps interest high…. Fans of the post-WWII pulp magazines and film noirs will find plenty to like.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Sean Carswell is a wonderful storyteller. His situations are as gritty and real as those of Nelson Algren and Ernest Hemingway. His writing style is easy, breezy, funny, but he is also an acute and intelligent observer of life in today’s America. Reading his stuff makes you laugh, and makes you think.”
— Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States
“Carswell is the J.D. Salinger for the Internet Generation.”
“On the surface, Carswell is a literary chameleon, moving effortlessly in and out of voices, genres, and styles, but underneath and above that, he is a born storyteller, always focused on his characters’ hearts and minds and fitting ends.”
— Ben Loory, author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
“Sean Carswell is full of surprises. He’s funny, frightening, madcap, philosophical. His writing has a real warmth of spirit, and the kind of deft observation that changes the way you see things long after you leave the page.”
— Scott O’Connor, author of Untouchable
“I’m a huge fan of Carswell’s fiction: he’s intelligent, hilarious, incisive, and his ear for dialogue is extraordinary.”
— Patricia Geary, Philip K. Dick Award-Winning author of Strange Toys