toyer

If you think a dreamboat ex-actor from a mediocre TV series can’t write a good book, this one will make you think again. Toyer starts with a portrait of LA as evocative, in its own way, as Ridley Scott’s vision of the city in Bladerunner.

Toyer is the name given by the press to a felonious psychopath who has mutilated a dozen women. He doesn’t kill them, he just de-activates them. An impressive scene is the verbal sparring between Toyer and one of his proposed victims. There’s a moment when he says, “Your roommate’s not coming home,” and everything changes.

Toyer’s bizarre mission is complicated by the fact that the at-large killer offers to write his memoirs and let his share of the profits go to his victims. His avenging archenemy is a doctor with a psyche as convoluted and off-kilter as his own. Finally, when he agrees to meet her for a therapeutic talk, she takes along a scalpel, planning to kill rather than counsel him. On a dark night she parks at Venice beach and walks out into the sand to confront Toyer…

Gardner McKay has more than the ability to simply write a story. Lovely lines keep coming up – “It rains so rarely, that it rains without knowing how.” There’s great, almost throwaway, stuff about things like the advantages of Catholicism to the bereaved. And we have here the best ever use of a cat in a suspense story, proving that even the most mawkish, overdone cliché can still be redeemed and made art.

The details of haunting loss in a life, he’s good on that. And he reveals perhaps a bit too much about how men think, and more than a man ought to know about how women think. It’s not only that a man gets so into the mind of a woman, but that anybody gets so into the mind of anybody. With all this intelligence, perception and wicked black humor, McKay must have been a scary man to know.

One of the characters is up for a part in an 8-hour cable TV version of Justine – from the Lawrence Durrell book – for that I love the author. Another character reflects that by his age, Rupert Brooke had already died. I love him for that, for even knowing who Rupert Brook was.

The author is as interesting as the novel he wrote: the impossibly handsome actor who starred as Captain Adam Troy in the TV series Adventures in Paradise. Amidst a very strenuous life filled with physically demanding pursuits carried out all over the world, he studied journalism, won awards for writing plays, and gained some fame as a photographer and sculptor. Aside from Toyer, McKay wrote other novels and a biography. And he sure knew Hollywood.

The best way to experience this book, and I wouldn’t lie to you about a thing like this, is to listen to the Brilliance Corp. audiotape, because the novel is read by its author. He has a quirk of pausing between words you wouldn’t expect. He doesn’t try to read the female characters’ lines in a femmy way, and it works just fine. Damn, he’s good. If you possibly can manage it, do yourself a favor and listen to the story. Not while driving, or in the midst of other distractions. Just settle down in a comfortable place, slip on the headphones, and listen.

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