Devil's Wind

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A tale of love, murder, and retribution set in Las Vegas during the 1950s, The Devil's Wind takes place during the time of the city's swiftest growth, when snazzy new hotels are sprouting on The Strip and once a month the Atomic Energy Commission explodes an A-bomb less than sixty miles away.

Maurice Valentine is a successful architect from Los Angeles who is slick, cynical, and, above all, ruled by ambition. But trouble arrives in the form of the beautiful Mallory Walker, who ...

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Overview

A tale of love, murder, and retribution set in Las Vegas during the 1950s, The Devil's Wind takes place during the time of the city's swiftest growth, when snazzy new hotels are sprouting on The Strip and once a month the Atomic Energy Commission explodes an A-bomb less than sixty miles away.

Maurice Valentine is a successful architect from Los Angeles who is slick, cynical, and, above all, ruled by ambition. But trouble arrives in the form of the beautiful Mallory Walker, who seduces him and turns his world upside down. Is it love? Or might Mallory simply be using Valentine to get close to a powerful Vegas mobster with a finger in every pot? For all his power and cynicism, Valentine finds himself a pawn in a mysterious game of revenge that could cost him all he holds dear.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smooth, callow architect Maurice Valentine scores a calculated marriage to a wealthy senator's daughter, casually names names for Joe McCarthy, designs casino hotels and builds mock suburban subdivisions to be vaporized by atomic testing. But when cool, blonde femme fatale Mallory Walker appears, noir strictures demand that the moral house of cards that is this cynical operator's life be slated for demolition. They also require a thrillingly lurid plot machinery-including a troubled mob patriarch and son, a land scam involving Jimmy Hoffa, heroin, murder, revenge and periodic nuclear blasts-to embroider an elemental struggle pitting 1956 Las Vegas, aka corruption and hollowness, against insurgent beatnik romance. Rayner (The Cloud Sketcher) mines such Nevada gothic sources as The Godfather Part II and Bugsy for inspiration, and he handles his classic pulp materials with style. The novel's tacit theme-why the '50s deserved to be annihilated by the '60s-is conveyed by reiteration of Nietzschean truisms ("[E]verybody wants power.... Power, not goodwill, not democracy, not love," muses Maurice, while Mallory opines, "God quit a long time ago") that combine jaded worldliness with apocalyptic anticipation. Plot twists and betrayals, bomb blasts and unrequited love all add up to a classy neo-noir. Agent, Jeff Posternak at the Wylie Agency. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in 1950s Las Vegas, a boomtown of glittering casinos and nearby A-bomb tests, this is the story of successful Los Angeles architect Maurice Valentine, whose ambitions and connections (he has married the daughter of a U.S. senator) are leading him toward a run for a Nevada senate seat. His plans take a turn after he meets the mysterious and alluring Mallory Walker at a party. Beginning an affair, he takes her to the Las Vegas hotel he has designed for powerful mobster Paul Mantilini. On their first meeting with Mantilini, Maurice begins to discover that little about Mallory is as it seems, and after she is apparently murdered, he is driven to solve the mystery of her true identity. As he digs deeper, he comes to understand the lies and compromises that undergrid her life-and ultimately his own. Rayner (L.A. Without a Map) uses the unsettling realities beneath Las Vegas's glossy surfaces as symbols of a deeper and more sinister social corruption. This noirish crime tale is recommended for most public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A man learns that the game is up, in a thriller as sharp as a new laser print of Double Indemnity. Author Rayner (Drake's Fortune, 2002, etc.) makes it seem as if it's never been done before-as if no femme fatale ever lured a man into her web, no mobsters ever rolled dice in Las Vegas, and no atomic bombs ever exploded in the Nevada Desert in the '50s. With a keen eye for character and place ("The sand could be made to gush with money . . ."), Rayner builds a swiftly cadenced plot around Maurice Valentine, born Maurizio Viglioni. Valentine, a successful architect who's a husband, a father, and a likely candidate for US Senate, thinks he has shed Viglioni, a shell-shocked veteran of WWII. At a cocktail party, Valentine meets Mallory Walker, who aspires to join Valentine at the drawing board-and in bed. In a steamy scene, she succeeds in the latter, and she appears headed to doing the former until she turns up dead in a car accident-but not before she's turned on Valentine, trying unsuccessfully to shoot him. All the while, Rayner has been cutting back to the tale of Beth Dyer, who shows in an unsettling gem of a first scene how disturbing an actor's dark ambition can be. As a besotted Valentine, meanwhile, tries to find Mallory's killers and to unravel her motives for trying to kill him, an architect friend hands Valentine a news clipping: Mallory is alive and about to be married. The bride-to-be turns out to be Beth Dyer, who spins a tale that sets Valentine after Vegas mobster Paul Mantinelli. Like the exploding atomic bomb some hotel guests watch from Vegas, the tie-up flashes in Valentine's face, then leaves him in darkness. Expertly judged work, executed with an apparent relish forall things noir. Agent: Jeff Posternak/Wylie Agency
Seattle Times
“A classic piece of Hollywood noir, with a page-turning plot as tightly crafted as a Chinese puzzle.”
Chicago Tribune
“A superb crime novel....Richard Rayner is a multitalented writer...Avidly captured feeling of a bygone world.”
Dallas Morning News
“Entertaining and atmospheric period noir .... evokes Vegas with a [lively] eye.”
New York Times Book Review
“This is rich territory, and Rayner makes skilled use of the postwar nuttiness and the cinematic milieu.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066212920
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in England, Richard Rayner now lives in Los Angeles. His previous books include the memoir The Blue Suit and the novels The Cloud Sketcher, L.A. Without a Map, and Murder Book. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and many other publications.

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First Chapter

The Devil's Wind

Chapter One

September , 1956 / Los Feliz, California

I first met Mallory Walker high in the hills above Silverlake, at one of those parties where Luis Barragan announced his continued existence to the world. It was during the Labor Day weekend, and Luis, such a figure, almost a legend in architecture, was pretty much at his wit's end, in danger of sliding off the map. He was in his late fifties by then, maybe sixty, and it was years since he'd designed a building. He still lived large, considering he was a man for whom so much had gone wrong. But, then, in life, as in architecture, Luis had a reckless disregard for convention and the niceties. And luck never quite left him.

"Good of you to show your face," he said, reeking of gin and sweat and about half a gallon of lemony eau de cologne. He was rumpled, with hair flowing like milk out of his ears and from the open neck of his blue silk shirt. "Come in here," he said, dragging me into the kitchen, where it was quiet and a tray of filled martini glasses stood on the counter, waiting for the help to take them out. Beer dripped from a chubby keg on the breakfast-nook table and a fly buzzed, drowning in the dregs of a tequila sunrise. "I dreamed about you last night, Maurice. You were lying dead in the desert."

"I'm touched, really I am," I said. "But you should worry about yourself."

"Don't I know it," Luis said with a deadpan, almost dazed expression. He was big, a belligerent man with multiple chins, eyes set far apart, and scars on his forehead, and his face puckered as he reached for a glass and saw the fly dying there. He thrust this glass aside and took instead one of the martinis, draining it in three long, slow gulps. He shut his eyes and swayed like a tree about to topple. "Oh, God!" he announced with drama.

"How much do you need? Five grand, ten?"

His eyes popped open again. "Jesus, Maurice! How long is it since we've seen each other?"

"It's been a while."

"More than four years."

"Really? I'd no idea it was so long."

"After all we've been through together ... "

Sometimes Luis had a voice like a phone ringing. He could give you the idea that once he got going he'd never stop. This was one of those times. Righteous indignation warmed him to his task.

"After all the trouble we've known, all the ups and downs, all the water under the bridge, and I finally decide to call you, and you offer me ... money."

With me he couldn't pretend. He was almost beaten and he was afraid. Sure, he'd swallowed his pride and invited me to the party. That meant something, but I enjoyed seeing him on the hook. "I thought you liked money, Luis," I said. "I do."

"I need work," he said. "There -- I've said it. I'll design a fucking toilet if I have to. Anything."

Luis had mentored me in our chosen profession. He'd been my partner, my friend, and, later, the rival I left behind, at least in terms of wealth and the acclaim of the wider world, and I knew no other terms. My wife had turned up her nose when she heard about the party, and my solo attendance more than hinted at condescension. But I liked Luis, and not only because he reminded me of struggles I'd overcome. He was exuberant, alive, and he had a childlike enthusiasm in spite of everything. Though often angry, he was never jaded. Besides, he and I understood one another. People don't know much about the private lives of architects. We're not like actors or politicians, but we have our feuds, our traumas. Believe me. We're in the tough position of trying to be artists and practical men at the same time. This particular juggling act had left Luis with his balls all over the floor. Practical was something he knew about but couldn't quite bring himself to achieve. Once, years before, when I'd started working for him, I'd asked for the single most important advice he thought he could give a young architect. "Marry money," he'd said, maybe meaning it, maybe not. I'd gone ahead, allying myself with several millions of dollars and the daughter of a U.S. senator.

"Where's Jennifer?" I asked, referring to his wife, the third of his wives that I knew about. She was a designer herself, a good one, and the daughter of impoverished New York bohemians, folks with an eye for the good art they couldn't afford.

"Out of town."

He caught the question in my raised eyebrow.

"Back tomorrow," he said. "Or the day after. Soon, anyway."

"And the kids?" Luis hailed from Peru, originally. His children tended to be dotted throughout the Americas, like features on a map.

"With her."

"How convenient," I said, wondering what Luis had going on, already guessing at the answer.

We walked through the high, narrow hallway into the living room, a wide and airy sunken space that flowed through sliding doors onto a patio of dazzling tile. The room was filled with Luis's nice things, his pictures and his sculptures, but the atmosphere was of neglect and I wondered how long his wife had been out of the picture. One leg was gone from the chrome-and-black-leather sofa; a couple of Luis's guests perched there nonetheless, whispering as they sipped their cocktails, like determined revelers on a ship going down. Another fellow, dressed in black, with a beret cocked to one side, stood at the fireplace, eyeing Luis's family photos in their frames of ornate and tarnished silver. Perhaps he was thinking of stealing them. And through the sliding doors I heard the hubbub of jazz and saw the rest of the revelers, the shadowy figures gathered around the pool's late-afternoon dazzle ...

The Devil's Wind. Copyright © by Richard Rayner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    wonderful historical Noir

    In 1956 California, highly regarded Los Angeles architect Maurice Valentine feels he rid himself of his past culminated when he changed identity from Maurizio Viglioni after coming home from World War II battle fatigued. Instead, he Anglicized his name, married a wealthy senator¿s daughter, and has connection is politics and with the mob. Maurice is going places perhaps in DC.--- At a party, the womanizing Maurice meets self-claimed heiress Mallory Walker, who seduces him; for the first time in years he wants more. However, he is stunned when, Mallory fires a shot at him. Not long afterward, she is found dead in what appears to be a car accident. However, Maurice knows how sly and deadly his connections are; he wonders if Mallory was murdered and begins making inquiries though he knows that is a mistake. He has to know why she wanted him dead. Soon he will find a strange twist involving an obsessed actress and soon to be someone else¿s wife Beth Dyer, who sends him seeking Vegas mobster Paul Mantinelli at a gala celebrating the latest atomic bomb test.--- The story line is action-packed, very graphic (the scene with the bomb exploding nearby is brilliant), and contains strong characters. The twists and turns will initially shock the audience, but quickly make sense as no one is quite like they seem; just ask Viglioni in his Valentine persona. Richard Rayner provides a wonderful historical (makes me feel ancient to say the 1950s in a historical context) Noir that pays homage to the Barbara Stanwick femme fatale movies.--- Harriet Klausner

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