I’m a huge fan of crime novels. I read, on average, about one a week. My favorites are the mid-century noir novels by writers like Chester Himes, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. After reading almost all of those that I could find, I moved on to more contemporary feminist crime novels by writers like Sara Gran and Denise Mina. Dead Extra is my love letter to those two sub-genres of crime. My goal was to write something that felt like mid-century noir but without all the racism and sexism. Hopefully, Dead Extra pulls that off.
Prospect Park Books will release Dead Extra on May 14, 2019. You can pre-order it here.
Here’s a synopsis of the novel:
The early forties have been a tough time for Jack Chesley. His plane was shot down over Germany and he spent two years in a brutal POW camp. During that time, his wife fell in the tub and died.
Prior to her death, the early forties were even tougher for Jack’s wife, Wilma. After Jack was mistakenly presumed dead, she went on a bender that ended with her wrongful commitment to the Camarillo State Psychiatric Hospital. While there, she took up with an alcoholic socialite, a junkie pianist, and a shady hospital employee who promised her a way out. Only that way out set her on the path to the end of her road.
Now Jack’s back in Los Angeles. His sister-in-law and Wilma’s twin, Gertie, hunts him down to tell him Wilma’s death was no accident: she was murdered. Gertie’s first efforts to find the truth earned her a bullet to the collarbone. But that doesn’t mean Gertie is ready to give up. She knows the right places to look and the right people to ask. She needs Jack, who was a cop for a short time before the war, to stick his nose into these places and ask these questions so that, together, they can figure out who killed Wilma, and why.
Dead Extra follows the parallel storylines of Wilma in the months before her murder in 1944 and Jack and Gertie’s search for the killer in 1946. Their adventures carry them through Hollywood’s second-tier studios, the Camarillo psychiatric hospital, Pasadena mansions, downtown jazz clubs, and one seriously sleazy motor court in Oxnard.
Taking its cues from early noir masters like James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler as well as contemporary neo-noir writers like Walter Mosley and Megan Abbott, Dead Extra explores new shadows on the seedy side of midcentury Southern California.
Here’s some advance praise for the book (four by some of my favorite contemporary feminist crime writers):
“Dark, seamy, and complex, Dead Extra is, at first glance, an excellent, faithful foray into old school L.A. noir. Jack Chesley is a hard-drinking former cop and World War II vet, pushed into investigating his wife’s suspicious death by her identical twin sister. But Sean Carswell is a writer who understands this genre well enough to subvert it left and right, particularly when it comes to the dead woman, whose gutsy misadventures occupy almost half of the book. Come for your hardboiled comforts—the violence, the corruption, and the mood are all there, as are the sharp prose and snappy dialogue. Stay for Carswell’s fresh, intelligent point of view.”
— Steph Cha, author of Dead Soon Enough and Follow Her Home
“Sean Carswell has written a moody, atmospheric page-turner that kept me up all night and left me hungover with longing for glamorous, gritty 1940s Los Angeles. Carswell’s shell-shocked, world-weary vet is a realistic protagonist, but it’s the dames who really steal this show.”
— Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Noir editor and author of Damage Control and the Eve Diamond mysteries
“Dead Extra is a refreshing take on classic hardboiled ’40s noir. There’s a world-weary hero who can take a knock and give plenty back, a dead woman with a scandalous past, corrupt cops, and Hollywood scandals, but what’s really striking is the extent to which the story is largely driven by women—not your typical femme fatales, but smart, flawed, determined women with their own dreams, traumas, and stories. Carswell’s women live in a time that limits their ambitions and routinely victimizes them, but they push back in spite of the consequences, finding both tragedies and triumphs.”
— Lisa Brackmann, New York Times–bestselling author of Rock Paper Tiger and Black Swan Rising
“Like a deadly cross between The Day of the Locust and L.A. Confidential, Dead Extra is a stunning exploration of Hollywood’s postwar history: dark, dream-like, and very dangerous. I loved it.”
— Phoef Sutton, New York Times–bestselling author (with Janet Evanovich) of Wicked Charms and Curious Minds and author of the Crush mysteries
“Dirty cops, unscrupulous mental health workers, and shady Hollywood actors—Sean Carswell spins a noirish tale with razor-edged prose and memorable characters who confront sexism, corruption, and the exploitation of the powerless. Dead Extra is a compelling story from the way back when that feels uncomfortably contemporary.”
— Patricia Smiley, author of the Pacific Homicide crime novels