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December 26, 2004

Patrick Hasburgh; Aspen Pulp ( Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin' )

From: Boston Herald - Boston,MA,USA - Dec 26, 2004

Has-beens in Aspen: Story of TV writer-cum-detective fertile fodder for mystery plot

Review by Rosemary Herbert
Sunday, December 26, 2004

Ever since Raymond Chandler sent his gumshoe Philip Marlowe down the mean streets, mystery writers have rejoiced in emulating the author's quick-witted wisecracks and memorable metaphors. But this can be taken too far.

Too many forget Chandler wrote in a measured, straightforward manner, providing a kind of literary setting that made each metaphor a gem. If you get more exuberant in your writing style, and if you encrust your prose too heavily with clever turns of phrase, the result can be just a gimcrack.

Take this line from Patrick Hasburgh's new mystery novel, ''Aspen Pulp'' - ''My ears were chirping like a choir of crippled crickets at a faith healing contest.'' You try so hard to ''hear'' the noise in that image that you lose sight of the action - in this case, the movement of a conversation between two otherwise quite engaging characters.

That's not to say Hasburgh's novel is not worth a look. After the first chapter or two of this book, he lays on the wit more effectively. And he has a grip on character and place, a lusty sense of humor and all the flair you'd expect from the creator and producer of ''21 Jump Street'' and ''Aspen Extreme'' for twisting absurdity into his plot.

The characters here include Jake, the tentatively sober Hollywood writer who doctors his Diet Coke with added sugar. He is recovering not just from alcoholism but from the loss of work writing television cop shows.

He hangs out with a has-been Olympic skier named Herman and a bevy of past-their-prime ski bunnies. He is fond of fishtailing his Corvette, daydreaming on skis, and indulging in group sex.

Meanwhile, using his ''Hollywood hack skill set'' gleaned over a career of police saga script writing, Jake sets out to solve the case of a missing teen, basketball player and party girl Tinker Mellon.

With John Denver tunes running like a sappy soundtrack through his head, Jake begins his investigation by interviewing the missing girl's stepmother, a gal he once bedded who moved on to live in Rupert Murdoch's old Aspen digs.

There's no love lost between stepmom and lost girl. And someone seems keen to see the end of Jake, as he learns when he's shot at while driving away from stepmommie-dearest's home.

The action cranks up with each succeeding chapter, and the repartee is quicker, too: ''So she's loaded now?'' Jake asks of Tinker's stepmom. ''And rich, too,'' another character replies.

As befits a mystery written by a Hollywood writer about a Tinseltown hack, there's melodrama in a mineshaft, a massive malamute sidekick for the sleuth and much more to move this story along.

There's also a back story to this book. Like his detective, Hasburgh gave up a glamorous career. In the author's case, bilateral hearing loss forced the issue. Having regained much of his ability to hear thanks to surgery at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, he plans to give proceeds from ''Aspen Pulp'' to that institution to fund cochlear implant surgery for children.

Rosemary Herbert is the Boston Herald's book review editor.

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