Friday, February 1, 2019

Book Review: 'The Sixteen Burdens' by David Khalaf

Oregon transplant from Southern California author David Khalaf studied print journalism at the University of Southern California, serving as editor of the Daily Trojan newspaper, and progressed to graduate school at USC for a degree in creative writing. He has been a waiter longer than he cares to remember. His novels ring of the Los Angeles atmosphere and David has obviously absorbed the culture of the city – the history, the Hollywood influence that paints most every aspect of LA, and the tongue in cheek humor that is necessary to survive life in the sunny mecca.

Reading David Khalaf is an experience all lovers of fine contemporary writing should absorb. His style is addictive, and he has found that fine line that traces senseless incidents with both the macabre and the comic. An example: ‘The fifth woman was abducted late on a Thursday night. Police had discovered no evidence at the scene other than her gold lipstick cap, which officers found gleaming in a dirty gutter like a used bullet casing. Aside from that, she had vanished like the others. Like magic. A headline in the Los Angeles Examiner stretched across all six columns: “STAR STALKER STRIKES AGAIN!” The only thing larger than the headline was the photo, a recent headshot of the victim, so sultry and seductive that men had picked clean the newsstands by mid-morning. The rest of the day’s news— the boring stuff— was squashed together at the bottom: Winston Churchill pushing for pre-emptive action against the German Reich; Mahatma Gandhi enacting a hunger strike against the British; Adolf Hitler narrowly escaping an assassination attempt in a Munich beer hall. Europe was slipping into another great war, but that was half a world away and not nearly as interesting as kidnapped movie stars. Gray Studebaker chewed on the tip of a bent cigarette as he read the story. He had filched the paper from the newsboy on the corner, the one his age whose face was always filthy with newsprint. He scratched at his peach fuzz and read on. The story itself was brief; the actress had been plucked from the sidewalk late last night as she waited for her driver outside the Cocoanut Grove. There was a scream, and the witnesses who had seen her only moments before saw thin air in her stead. Her name was Nina Beauregard.' The case rests.

David supplies an apt comment for his evocative novel: ‘What if humanity's greatest talents were concentrated into the hands of a lucky few? That's the question I set out to explore in The Sixteen Burdens. Surely those talents would have belonged to some of some history's greatest figures: Sampson with his strength. King Solomon with his wisdom. Joan of Arc with her courage. This story could have been set in any place and time, but I chose my personal favorite: 1930s Hollywood. At the time, Los Angeles was an epicenter for talent and a magnet for some of the world's greatest figures of the day. It seemed a natural fit. With the world on the brink of another great war, what would happen when these Great Talents start to meet and vie for power? That's what you'll find out’

Or for the storyline, ‘What if humanity’s great historical figures weren’t just talented—they were supernaturally talented? In this fresh spin on urban fantasy, history’s illustrious leaders, thinkers, warriors, and entertainers all share a secret…and a perilous destiny. The year is 1939, and everyone who’s anyone has descended upon the glamorous streets of Hollywood. It’s a great place to be if you’re an actor, singer, politician, or businessman. Not so much if you’re Gray Studebaker, a young guttersnipe stuck selling movie-star maps on the street corner. But then Gray never wanted to be rich or famous—he’d be happy just being left alone by his tyrannical caretaker. During a rash of celebrity kidnappings, Gray discovers the stars on his map are hiding unusual talents for which they are being abducted. When Gray tries to solve the crimes on his own, he finds himself caught up in a battle for power that stretches back to the beginnings of humanity. The hunt begins for an ancient tool that can rescue celebrities the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks from an indestructible maniac who wants to steal their talents to create an invincible army. But Gray has a secret of his own, a mysterious disease that will either save the others or destroy them all.’

David Khalaf is a bright and shining new talent, one who most assuredly in on his way up. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, December 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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