THE BOARDWALK AND BRIGHTON Beach were deserted. Where summertime crowds lay sweating like wall-to-wall walruses a few determined scavengers probed the sand for discarded pop bottles. Beyond them, the Atlantic was the color of cast iron, surf surging against the breakwater in a leaden spray.
Steeplechase Park spanned twenty-five acres.The Parachute Jump, a hand-me-down from the ’39 World’s Fair, towered above the factory-size, glass-walled pavilion like the framework of a two-hundred-foot umbrella.
A sign out front said THE FUNNY PLACE above the leering, painted face of founder George C. Tilyou. Steeplechase was as funny this time of year as a joke without a punchline, and I looked up at the grinning Mr. Tilyou and wondered what there was to laugh about.
I found a man-size hole in the chain-link fence and pounded on the salt-encrusted glass near the locked front entrance. The noise echoed through the empty amusement park like a dozen poltergeists on a ghostly spree.
Wake up, old man! What if I was a gang of thieves out to boost the Parachute Jump?
I started on a circumnavigation of the vast structure, beating the glass with the flat of my hand. Turning a corner, I came face-to-face with the muzzle of a gun. It was a Colt’s Police Positive .38 Special, 117 but seen from my vantage point, it looked about the size of Big Bertha. Holding the .38 without a tremor was an old party in a brown and tan uniform.
observations: I loved all of this book (see entry earlier this week) but most of all I loved Harry Angel’s sleuthing trip to Coney Island. It’s a well-worn subject – the past-its-best resort out of season – but Hjortsberg does a phenomenal job on it. I think my favourite line in the whole book might be
Wake up, old man! What if I was a gang of thieves out to boost the Parachute Jump?in the passage above. And the book, despite its very dark subject matter, is often very funny and always entertaining. I love the PI language – earlier in this scene Harry has received some key information from Danny who ‘put me wise when I needed some knockdown on the q.t.’
After reading the book I thought I’d better watch the 1987 film based on it: Angel Heart starring Robert de Niro, Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet. And this too was highly enjoyable, although (like all Alan Parker films) over-plotted and over-decorated and over-atmospheric. Part of the action was moved to New Orleans, which seemed unnecessary. But the casting and acting were excellent, it was surely Mickey Rourke’s finest hour, his slight flakiness suiting the part. And the film does full justice to the scenes at Coney Island, with an incredible seascape and a proper sinister air.
The chief guest blogger, Colm Redmond, used a pic of Lisa Bonet from the film to illustrate this entry a while back, and Col (who is not the same person as the Guest Blogger) actually recommended book and film in the comments then. Bonet’s character, in book and film, has the truly splendid name of Epiphany Proudfoot – Hjorstberg has a very sure touch with names.
BTW, I would say I could not see this actual shot of Lisa Bonet in the film – she washes her hair but doesn’t dry it.
One of the best books I've read this year, and a candidate for the best ending ever.
The songsheet featuring the Steeplechase and George Tilyou is from the NYPL.
The colour picture shows the Parachute Jump in 1973, from the US National Archives.
The b/w photo of the woman in the Coney Island diner is one of my favourites – I have used it before on the blog, most notably here. It is part of the James Jowers collection at George Eastman House.