Pulp Read-A-Thon 2013: The Face On The Cutting-Room Floor
For my next novel in the great pulp read-a-thon of 2013 (alternately titled: “What The Hell Did I Get Myself Into?”), I chose The Face On The Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe. Except it’s not really Cameron McCabe, because Cameron McCabe is the name of the lead character in the book. The one that is in fact narrating (or at least narrates most of it – more on that later). The real author’s name is Ernst Bornemann.
What exactly made me pick this book? Let me tell you; I liked the title, and the cover was great in that way that only old pulpy books can be. Just check out that cover. Am I right?
Not that it’s a specific rule of this whole crazy 24 pulp novels in 12 months thing, but I like to do as little research as possible on the books that I’ve chosen. I might read a quick synopsis first, but I won’t read anything too detailed, and I definitely won’t read anybody’s reviews. What’s the fun in that?
Before I launch into what I liked (and the stuff I didn’t like… and don’t worry, you’ll hear about that), I’m going to tell you a bit about the author. I realized I hadn’t done that for Brett Halliday, and I’m kicking myself now (but there’ll be another chance for that, because I just picked up another Mike Shayne book last week).
About The Author
One thing that seems particularly pervasive amongst pulpy detective/crime writers is that they’re jacks of all trades, many of which said trades are seemingly quite disparate. Ernst Bornemann (or Ernest Borneman, which is how he anglicized his name after his move to the U.K.) isn’t an exception. What Bornemann is most well-known for didn’t happen until later on in his life – in 1976 he earned is doctorate for the study on origins and futures of the patriarchal system. The study was later published as a book, and is in fact still considered one of the best works on the subject to this day. He was considered a great mind in the world of sexology, and his studies are still used in classes around the world today (and I’m actually speaking from experience here).
Bornemann’s interest in the subject matter even managed to leak through quite clearly in this book – which he wrote when he was only twenty years old. His non-judgement on the matter of sex was refreshing – especially when sex is so often used as a trope to hit the reader over the head with who the good and bad characters are.
Bornemann was also known to be a filmmaker, jazz critic, psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and even an ethnomusicologist. Score one more pulp crime writer in the jack of all trades category.
There’s another cliche that Bornemann falls into, much like many of his fellow pulp crime novelists – he committed suicide. Unlike his peers, however, he committed suicide at the ripe old age of 80, supposedly due to an affair. Unfortunately Bornemann is more well-known in his native Germany, so most references to his life are in German. I don’t speak German.
The main plot is this: a young starlet is found dead on the cutting room floor in a British film studio in 1937. Whodunit ensues featuring the main character and narrator, Cameron McCabe – a film editor, Jenson – a detective from Scotland Yard, and a host of other various actors, a studio exec, another editor, and a set worker or two. The book doesn’t feel like a British book, Bornemann very much wrote it to feel like an American novel of the era, and even pokes fun at that himself by letting us know that McCabe has spent some time in North America. There’s a love-triangle in the mix, and people who have hidden motives. It sets itself up well for a crime novel.
What I thought in general of it? Eh.
It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great. In fact, the first two-thirds of it are an enjoyable story, but what really got me, was where the last third of it is a critique of the book. From the perspective of a writer. But it’s not Bornemann, it’s another character (Müller) critiquing the book written by the main character (McCabe).
I don’t get it. I don’t get why this was allowed to happen. Why the hell did he do this? I have no freaking clue. And there are pages upon pages (almost 100 of them in fact) where the critic is not only justifying the book’s existence, but also the writing style – ad nauseum. I get the feeling that Bornemann was trying to justify his own story, although I’m not sure why. Müller (Bornemann) is trying to raise his story up to the level of Hammett (don’t kid yourself), Hemingway, or Joyce. It should have been cut right out. It was completely unnecessary and reeked of an author glorifying himself. It completely ruined the book for me, which, up until then was a good little crime novel with some great snappy dialogue and a few good twists and turns.
I would have also liked a bit more differentiation on the style of speaking between McCabe and Jensen (the antagonist). It bugged me a lot more until I learned that Bornemann was only 20 when the book was written. The dialogue is still snappy, and there’s so good wit bandied about, so it’s not a major sticking point.
All in all, on a scale of five, I’m giving it a two. The critique is what completely killed it. If that had been cut right out, it’d be a 3.5. I suggest anybody who’s going to read it – don’t read the epilogue. Seriously, don’t. Just close the book.
And you can read it! This book is out of copyright and available for free in several e-reader formats through Munsey’s (and other websites, but Munsey’s has good formatting). You can download it here.