A classic piece of Hollywood noir, with a page-turning plot as tightly crafted as a Chinese puzzle, "The Devil's Wind" demonstrates the genre is alive...

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“The Devil’s Wind”


by Richard Rayner

HarperCollins, 338 pp., $24.95

A classic piece of Hollywood noir, with a page-turning plot as tightly crafted as a Chinese puzzle, “The Devil’s Wind” demonstrates the genre is alive and thriving in novelist Richard Rayner’s hands.

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All the essential elements are present in “The Devil’s Wind”: the beautiful blonde with a secret past and easy morals; the hero who, against his better instincts, falls for her; gangsters who masquerade as friendly businessmen. Rayner throws in a few jazz musicians, the best of whom feels “there’s something about jazz that’s like falling off a cliff every time, over and over again.”

Rayner sets the story in the 1950s, from Los Angeles, just after names have been named to the House Unamerican Activities Committee, to Las Vegas, still a small-town desert resort, where the Hollywood rich and beautiful party in the penthouse of an early casino to watch atomic tests in the nearby desert.

A successful architect on the make to become Nevada’s next senator relies on his wife’s powerful father and the thuggish owner of the casino he has just built to make things happen for him. He understands “that for those who truly control and rule, power doesn’t separate itself into separate entities — money, business, family, crime, politics. It’s all one, a juggernaut.”

He is arrogantly self-assured. His life is on the power track. And then he meets a rich, well-educated woman who wants to work for him and is willing to bed him. Through the twists and tragedies she sets in motion, he discovers he hasn’t been in charge of his own life for a very long time. He is being used in ingenious and nasty ways — just like the beautiful people who regard the A-bomb tests as spectator sports.