Chuck Barris's new camp murder mystery
Sometimes a title grabs you, and in this case it was a book with the somewhat silly murder-mystery title "Who Killed Art Deco?" And when I picked up a copy from our book room -- an advance, without the final art -- I was surprised to see that the author was Chuck Barris.
That Chuck Barris. The host of the 1970s TV hit "The Gong Show" and creator of "The Newlywed Game." The one who wrote the pop song "Palisades Park." Whose memoir, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," said he had worked for the CIA, something so preposterous that it was almost believable. It was later turned into a film of the same name; George Clooney directed.
So what's an ex-TV-host, ex-possible-CIA-assassin to do at age 80 but write a murder mystery?
With all the skepticism in the world, I picked up "Who Killed Art Deco" -- and promptly read the first 96 pages. It's silly and swift and filled with off-kilter characters that Barris nails in a few sentences. "Eddie Cantelone was a twenty-five-year-old lying, sleazy scuzzbag," and "Hattie Strange ... and her husband, Morgan Strange ... were far more hateful and bigoted than most of the members of the Methodist church congregation they belonged to." In other words, it's really fun.
Depending on how you count, it's either Barris' third novel or his fifth (two of his six books are in a mysterious fictional-memoir zone). He's got it down.
If you want to read a book that's a bit like "The Royal Tennenbaums" meets "Mysteries of Pittsburgh" with a dead body thrown in -- on page 97, to be exact -- "Who Killed Art Deco?" is totally your style.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Chuck Barris at Book Soup in 2007.
Credit: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images