All failed actor and unlicensed private eye Clark Gable has to do is impersonate a wealthy scriptwriter for a few hours, and sign a contract for the biopic of the inventor of a device which has transformed the world of entertainment. What could go wrong? True, he's seeing ghosts, but so's everyone else these days, at least when they go to the Feelies. And Europe is devastated by war, and America in sleep-walking toward Fascism. But what's that got to do with him? A great deal, it turns out, as he stumbles into a world of glamour, danger, preternatural forces and political intrigue.
A dazzling blend of mystery, fantasy and history, and by turns witty, eerie and romantic, Wake Up and Dream is film noir with Technicolor wraiths.
Ian MacLeod refuses to be categorised, reinventing himself with each new novel, unbowed by any commercial considerations. He is the winner of multiple awards, but is at his most playful here, in a noir detective mystery set in a weird alternate Hollywood – something I can never resist. – Lavie Tidhar
"MacLeod expertly hits all the hard-boiled beats, delivering the creepy, fascinating, strange, and wholly enjoyable story with a noir melancholy, a keen eye for detail, and plenty of snappy dialogue."– Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Set in an antisemitic US drifting towards collusion with Nazi Germany, Wake Up and Dream slowly picks at the artifice of Hollywood to reveal its morally rotten core. MacLeod won the Arthur C Clarke award in 2009, and on the strength of this novel should do so again."– The Guardian
A perfect morning in late June. The last of the mist had burned away and the smog had yet to settle as he took the offramp from the new Olympic Parkway and rattled north through Hollywood in his battered '36 Ford. Stargazy queues were already lengthening outside the feelie houses for today's first shows. Backstabber Wife, starring Trudy Rester—whoever the hell she was—was on at the Aladdin, and The Wonderful Prairie and Midnight's Dust were in continuous double bill at the Classic, both featuring Saffron Knowles and James H. Pack, and he hadn't heard of them, either. Not for the first time, he told himself that he should pay more attention to the industry on which this city thrived.
Today was his chance. Up along Franklin beside the high fences of the new Paramount-Shindo studios. On past the stores offering sightseeing tours and the boys selling maps of the stars and girls selling themselves and the plateglass boutiques and the bars which were already open for the morning, or hadn't yet closed from the night before. And up. Into the hills.
There were pines. White clouds. Air so clean it tasted like God's aftershave. The Ford's engine made an ominous coughing sound as it climbed the hairpins. It wasn't used to this kind of world. Neither was he.
* * *
He took the grade above Stone Canyon. The road here kicked and turned, with fine views all the way to the Pacific. He was struggling with his street guide as it flapped on the passenger seat when a siren blooped behind him. Cursing, he pulled away from the drop and into the farside verge as the other car swung around in front just before a large private estate sign that announced Woodsville.
Not a police car, although you'd have to look twice to be sure. The same black Mercury sedan the LAPD used. It even had the siren, and the blue toplight, although a badge on the side announced Gladmont Securities. Upscale areas like this used these kinds of companies to keep out sightseers and ne'er-do-wells.
Just to show willing, he uncricked himself from his Ford and put on his best aw shucks grin as the security guard—who was lean and tall, and carrying a gun in a pop-down leather holster on his belt—approached. The sunlight was turning the waters of the reservoir beneath them to glittering gold. The sun was doing a pretty good job up here all round.
"You got business in this area?" The security guard was wearing aviator sunglasses and the sort of uniform you saw in pictures of those German parades, right down to the peaked cap. The armband might as well have had a swastika, but it was just another Gladmont Securities shield.
"Wouldn't be here otherwise."
The security guard's reflected gaze traveled up and down more slowly. Absorbed in greater detail the suit, which was faded yellow at the hem and edges from too much dry cleaning, the frayed necktie which had worked loose from his shirt collar, which was loose and frayed as well, and finally the shoes, which lacked the intense shine of the trouser knees. The gaze then traveled back to the dusty, two door, black Ford Tudor which had seen considerably better years, let alone days.
"Maybe this'll help…" He reached into the outside pocket of his suit coat and removed a letter. It drooped from the dampness of his fingers as he held it out.
The security guard's thin lips pursed as he studied it. "So you're the addressee? Clark Gable?"
Nice, that: addressee. "Yeah. That's right."
"And you're here to see a Mrs April Lamotte up in Woodsville?"
"She wrote the letter. Said that was what she wanted. As you can see, I'm supposed to be there at ten o-clock."
"You realize it's quarter gone already?"
"The longer we stand here, the more I'm late."
"Do you have any other proof of identity?"
Making sure he got the letter back first, Clark reached into his top pocket and produced one of his business cards. Watching as the security guard studied it, he decided he really needed to splash out on a fresh print run without the telephone number changed and then crossed out.
"So you're a private eye?" The security guard folded over the card's corner and pocketed it.
"That's what it says. My permit's in the car."
The security guard didn't exactly raise his eyebrows; at least not as far as Clark could tell behind those sunglasses. It was more subtle than that. "You're carrying a gun?"
"Never could bother with the things." He opened his arms to show willing. "Pat me down if you like."
What Clark could see of the tan, long face remained resolutely deadpan. This guy wasn't much like any security guard he'd ever encountered. Far too young and too slim to be an ex-cop, and most of the rest were paid bullies. Then there was his light voice and cultured manner, which didn't fit either—more like the guy was playing a role—although he reckoned the explanation was most likely the usual one you found when you came across someone doing seemingly odd work in this city. With those nice cheekbones, that regular complexion and thin, expressive mouth, he was probably just another actor between roles.
The security guard gave an eloquent smile, then he turned from Clark and with a rasp of his steel-tipped heels strode over to the far side of the road. He began to whistle tunelessly as he regarded the view. "Some fine morning, isn't it, Mr Gable?" he said eventually.
"I was just thinking the same myself." The whistling began again. The birds sang. The guard remained standing gazing at the view across the reservoir. Clark got the impression that this was one of those moments which could go on and on.
"By the way," he asked, "you don't happen to know the exact way I should be going to get to my client, do you?"
"The exact way?" Something close to amusement played across the guard's face as he turned and wrapped his long fingers around his gleaming belt. "Don't think I do. All I can honestly recommend, Mr Gable, is that you keep on going in the direction you're already on…"