Phillips’ ‘Rake’ explores Paris with a noirish twist

06/14/2013 4:31 PM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

“Rake” by Scott Phillips (Counterpoint, 256 pages, $25)

The first scene in “Rake” is a fight. It’s not surprising that a Scott Phillips book opens with violence; he’s known for exploring the baser side of humanity with dark humor and noirish style. It is perhaps a little surprising that the book is set in Paris and deals not with grubby criminals and other assorted low-lifes, but with glamorous celebrities and rich high-lifes — who, not surprisingly, are all nonetheless basically criminals.

“Rake” is the fast-paced story of an American soap-opera star who has found fame in France, where reruns of the show air in prime time and everyone recognizes “Dr. Crandall Taylor.” Though it’s not really a satire, the book skewers aspects of the entertainment industry, being quite entertaining in the process.

The TV star has decided to do a feature film, which involves finding a writer and backers, which involves schmoozing and promising and a fair amount of “stretching the truth” — all of which he’s very, very good at. He’s also very, very good at attracting all sorts of women, and manages to juggle several lovers nearly effortlessly, though the jealous husbands/boyfriends cause him some trouble. Rather a lot of trouble, in one case, which serves as one of the plot points in the story (and the fight at the beginning).

The blood-soaked, sex-fueled story moves quickly through shiny nightclubs and parties, posh apartments and the streets of Paris. Its clever twists and turns grab hold of readers and keep us guessing. Despite the glitz, “Rake” is a fairly gritty story, the grit is just hidden under a shiny surface.

And though the main character, when it comes down to it, is a psychopath, his nonchalant, happy-go-lucky nature makes it easy to root for him to succeed. He’s not a tortured celebrity; in fact, he loves it: “Free stuff, brazen women … preferred seating everywhere I go: yeah, this is pretty much the life you imagine it is. And it’s great.”

“Rake” makes no bones about its main character being a bad guy. But bad guys can make for good reads, and this one does.

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