(Reviewed by Hagen Baye AUG 3, 2008)
Of the now-over-40 books published by Hard Case Crime, Money Shot is the first written by a woman. Its author, Christa Faust, appropriately tagged “The "First Lady" of Hard Case Crime” by Richard S. Prather, is quite a writer, and quite a character in her own right. Just check out her website to see for yourself. Her writing is direct and no-holds-barred. There is a frank and brutally honest quality to it. There are elements to her writing not unlike those found in Jason Starr's and Ken Bruen's writing. There is one major exception, however. Despite the opportunity (and ability) to titillate, like Starr/Bruen, whose Bust and Slide have marginal socially redeeming qualities (except to the extent that they are sources of enjoyable reading), Faust's work does have socially redeeming qualities to it--surprisingly so, actually. Despite the blunt language and the talk of things sexual, Money Shot is a story that puts a human face on the victims of the underbelly of the business of smut. Money Shot provides a sympathetic portrayal of the human side of the porn industry, notwithstanding all of its warts, whether self-inflicted (addictions, obsession, fetishes) or inflicted by the greed/lust of others, the seedy, slimy side, even the criminal element, that preys on the weak and innocent.
The main character in Money Shot is Angel Dare, a retired porn star turned agent, who got out of the smut racket before it swallowed her up and spat her out, as it does to so many of the other bodily transformed, drug and alcohol addicted denizens of that industry. Angel Dare was originally known as Gina Moretti, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, and was driven to porn because she did not want to sink “into the tar of motherhood and debt and responsibility” or be like her sister who went “from a vibrant, intelligent young woman who wanted to travel and dreamed of becoming an opera singer to an exhausted, fat and shrewish mother whose entire world was about diapers and dishes and laundry….” Angel was “out of the game” after 9 years of it, and opened her own “high-class adult modeling agency,” Daring Angels, in Van Nuys, to help younger women “navigat[e] the shark-infested waters of the smut racket” and to serve as a “positive alternative to the boyfriend/managers, the suitcase pimps and the predatory, mostly male-run talent agencies.” Daring Angels was “a female-owned and -operated agency that treated the girls with respect, that had their backs and made sure that they didn’t get eaten alive and spat back out in under a year.”
As Money Shot opens, an old trusted colleague, Sam Hammer, invites Angel to come out of retirement and do a "shoot" with the hottest male porn star going, Jesse Stone, who is “Hollywood handsome and legendary below the belt.” Flattery that she'd be specifically requested by Stone blinds her from the hints that something’s wrong with the set up as she eagerly approaches the location of the (non-existent) set, where Jesse greets her with a rap in the mouth and worse. Besides Jesse and Sam (who stammers that his wife, “all-natural triple-D legend Busti Keaton,” is held hostage), there are two other men who are anxious to recover some briefcase from Angel. They believe that a "Lia" left it with her. All Angel knows is that a young woman named Lia with a briefcase was in her offices that day desperately looking for one of her girls.
The girl this Lia sought was Zandora Dior (aka Lenuta Vasilescu) who is in Vegas at the time, and all Angel can do is agree to fax her a note, which Lia hurriedly scribbles in her foreign language. Then Lia rushes out and a couple of tough guys come into Angel’s office shortly afterwards looking for Lia, saying they did not see her leave the building. Their suspicion that Angel knows the whereabouts of the briefcase is why Angel’s invited to the phony shoot with Jesse Stone.
Angel learns the bag contains money stolen by Lia. She herself is beaten up, raped, wounded by a shot (lucky for her Jesse's a lousy shot), bound and stuffed in the trunk of a car, left at some abandoned industrial site outside of LA. Despite her multiple wounds, Angel manages to painfully free herself. Angel will soon learn that the police are pursuing her for the murder of Sam Hammer, who was shot dead with a gun registered to her, stolen from either her house or office.
Lalo Malloy, the "Hispamish"--“His daddy was Irish,…[a]nd mama’s Mexican”--ex-cop who provides her office’s security escort, comes to her rescue. He gets her to a discreet "doctor" (more dominatrix than MD) who ministers to her wounds, then helps to disguise her as a "fey blond boy.” Angel is aghast at what her bruises do to her appearance.
Then, Angel is off hiding from the police and pursuing the hoods, with Lalo’s help. Her first order of business is to get to Zandora Dior, but Lalo and Angel get to her in Vegas too late. The goons arrive there first and kill Zandora.
Angel does get her hands on the note Lia faxed Zandora and gets one of Zadora’s countrywomen to translate it. It reads as follows and speaks volumes:
"Lia Albu from the Saint Agnes Home for Orphan Girls…I am in terrible trouble with bad men. They bring me here to have job as nanny and then take my passport. They make me be prostitute and do porno to pay back for ticket but they claim so many expenses and I cannot get any money…. They beat me and put drugs in me…. I will give you money to buy [my younger sister] Ana and five other girls, to save them from this hell that I have lived…."
Angel learns that the hoods are not only framing her for Sam's murder but have also ruined any possibility of her continuing in the business by planting kiddie porn sites onto her computer. She, thus, has no more home or office and has been stripped of all that she's accomplished. The desire for revenge begins to consume her.
Astute Angel subsequently figures out what happened to the hotly sought-after briefcase and retrieves it and gets her hands on some $180,000. She is able to accomplish her revenge to a certain extent against those who have ruined her, and at the end she must choose between keeping the money and starting anew for herself or selflessly use it to buy the freedom of 11 young women, 5 new girls about to be sold into the “sex trade” and 6 “used up” ones (those who were already in the trade and no longer look so good, have contracted HIV or Hep C, and/or can’t earn their keep for whatever reason). She chooses to do right by these girls and to also pay the price for her revenge by surrendering to the authorities—which hopefully provides an opportunity for a sequel.
Along the way the readers are introduced to such pathetic casualties of the porn racket as Tabitha Moore (“only twenty-four but she already had more surgical enhancements than a Beverly Hills divorcee twice her age. She was a legendary party girl too, with a pill habit the size of Nevada….”), Thick Vic Ventura (finished by a reputation for unreliable wood…making ends meet by dealing methamphetamines to girls in the business) and Roxanne DuMonde (a kleptomaniac extraordinaire), as well as others. Even Angel’s reminiscence of Zandora is telling: “I thought of the first time I’d met her, how sweet and raw she’d looked back then, before she’d gotten bleached, implanted, liposucked, French-manicured and Brazilian waxed into this generic, tan, platinum blond….”
Faust writes with authentic feeling and earns the empathy of her readers. She shows what a truly decent person this amazing character she created, Angel Dare, is for the sacrifices she makes for certain victims of the sex trade. Angle may not be a Mother Theresa, but she is a woman with a whole lot of heart who can teach moralists a thing or two about doing good regardless of the cost. Hopefully, we will have not heard the last of Angel Dare.
- Amazon readers rating: from 59 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Money Shot at Hard Case Crime
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
With Poppy Z. Brite:
- Triads (2004)
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- Official website for Christa Faust and Deadlier Than the Male blog
- In For Questioning interview with Christa Faust
- MostlyFiction.com review of Choke Hold
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About the Author:
Christa Faust lives in Los Angeles, California.