January 6, 2015
SVU Thriller, Dead Before Dawn: Life Imitates Art
Summary: This book is surprisingly awesome.
Bruce and Jessica have been taking a screenwriting class from an actual Oscar-winning screenwriter, Dennis Gordon. Bruce is really into screenwriting, and thinks the screenplay he’s written, The Victim, is good enough to be made into a movie. It’s about a guy who’s poisoned and tries to find out who wants him dead. He spent two weeks working on it, even skipping time with Lila to work. Lila doesn’t appreciate this.
Bruce decides to try to make it up to her by letting her read his screenplay. (I don’t get how Bruce’s mind works, but okay.) He prints out a copy to turn in to Gordon, then a second copy for himself. He runs out of white paper and prints part of the screenplay on pink paper. Then he prints a third copy all on pink paper. This is actually important to the plot.
Thanks to how distant Bruce has been, Lila has no problem flirting with a guy she meets named Marcus Stanton. He’s hot and he went to a prep school Lila’s familiar with, which means he’s rich. Not long after they meet, Marcus leaves some flowers outside Lila’s door, earning Bruce’s wrath. There’s a note from Marcus asking Lila to dinner, so Bruce trashes the note and takes credit for the flowers.
Gordon invites his class to the opening of the Beringer Wing at SVU’s film school. Belinda Beringer was an SVU student who allegedly committed suicide after emptying her trust fund. Jessica thinks her story is interesting enough to turn into a screenplay. She tries to talk to Gordon about Belinda, but he’s not feeling chatty right now. While Bruce tries to make friends with Gordon, Lila learns that Bruce didn’t give her the flowers after all. She decides to get some payback by going on a date with Marcus.
Gordon tells Bruce that his screenplay is a mess and not even worth a rewrite. Bruce should just get rid of it. The main character is okay, someone the audience should root for, but the plot is unbelievable. Yeah, that’s always a dealbreaker for a movie. Bruce and Gordon (…did the ghostwriter watch Batman before writing this book?) drink Scotch together before Bruce leaves to mope about how he’ll never be a famous screenwriter.
Lila goes out with Marcus, though now she feels bad about sneaking around behind Bruce’s back. She admits to Marcus that she has a boyfriend, so they can’t go out again. Marcus is furious that she didn’t tell him about her boyfriend sooner. Lila is smart enough to know that it would be a bad idea to spend any more time with this guy, so she tries to get a ride home from someone else. Meanwhile, Bruce realizes that he left his pink and white copy of the screenplay in the film library.
Bruce ends up at a bar called the Blue Lagoon, where he runs into Marcus. The thing is, Bruce doesn’t know that he’s the guy trying to woo Lila, or even what his name is. They start drinking together, and Marcus drunk-chats that he thinks his previous girlfriend was murdered. He won’t tell Bruce why he hasn’t expressed that to the police. Later, after Marcus leaves, Jessica arrives; she was supposed to hang out with Steven and some of his friends, but they’ve already left. Bruce takes her to a frat party, where he drinks some more, then protects her from a skeezy frat boy who can’t keep his hands to himself.
Jessica and Bruce end up spending the night in Jessica’s dorm room (Elizabeth’s out of town and, blessedly, not in this book) after Bruce passes out there. Jess takes advantage of his faulty memory by letting him think they slept together. Lila arrives, thinks the same thing, and bolts. Bruce goes home and finds that she’s left him some coffee. He thinks that means Lila has forgiven him. Which is weird, because why would she suddenly figure out that nothing happened without even talking to Bruce or Jessica? Whatever.
Bruce tries to go see Lila, but he blacks out and ends up in the hospital. There, he learns that he was poisoned. The ER doc, Dr. Martin, tells him he probably has fewer than 24 hours of life left. Bruce wants to leave so he can find out who poisoned him – just like the protagonist in his screenplay. Dr. Martin doesn’t try very hard to keep him there or to connect him to the police. Instead, she gives him a pager so she can contact him if she has any new information or somehow figures out the antidote.
Bruce does go to the police, but since he can’t tell them who poisoned him or what was used, they say they can’t help him. Apparently detectives in Sweet Valley aren’t expected to do any actual detecting. Bruce then catches up with Jessica, who agrees to help him find his poisoner. Bruce’s first suspect is Marcus; Marcus could have poisoned his beer at the Blue Lagoon, and he could have taken Bruce’s screenplay from the film library, maybe to pass it off as his own.
Jessica and Bruce go to the dedication for the Beringer Wing, where Marcus happens to be…because he’s giving a speech. He was Belinda’s fiancé. Once Bruce learns his name, he realizes that this is the same guy who was trying to get his hooks into Lila. Now Marcus could have another motive for wanting to get rid of Bruce.
A brief fistfight ensues, followed by a car chase. Bruce is feeling so sick that he actually lets Jessica drive 1BRUCE1, the lucky girl. She accidentally drives it off a cliff, but at least she had a few good minutes there. Elsewhere, Lila runs into an old friend who went to the same prep school Marcus claimed he attended. The friend has no idea who Marcus is. Lila wonders if Marcus lied about everything he told her.
Jessica and Bruce survive their plunge over a cliff (of course), though 1BRUCE1 doesn’t. RIP, 1BRUCE1. The pager is also gone, so Bruce has no way of knowing if Dr. Martin has made any progress trying to save his life. Bruce tries to call Marcus, but there’s no one by that name with a listed phone number in the area. Bruce then tries to call Lila, but she doesn’t answer because she’s just been knocked unconscious in her apartment.
Bruce has an actual good idea – get Marcus’ address from the florist where he bought the flowers for Lila. He and Jessica pose as siblings trying to buy flowers for their parents’ anniversary, and Jess distracts the florist while Bruce sneaks a peek at her records. However, Jessica refuses to take Bruce to see Marcus. She insists that he go back to the hospital, since he’s getting worse. Bruce lets her take him to the hospital, then asks her to get him a wheelchair. While she’s gone, he takes off.
Marcus lives in a crappy neighborhood, so there goes his lie to Lila about being rich. Bruce learns that Marcus took Belinda’s trust-fund money and was going to use it to finance her screenplay. Unfortunately, he gambled it all away. Also, he insists that he didn’t kill Belinda. Bruce is suspicious, especially since Marcus has his pink and white screenplay. There’s another fight, and Marcus produces a gun. There’s a shot, and suddenly Marcus is dead…but Bruce didn’t kill him. Someone fired from outside the window, then left with the screenplay.
Bruce next goes to Lila’s, where he sees that someone burned the pink screenplay in the fireplace. Then he discovers Lila unconscious and calls an ambulance. She’s able to tell him that she was attacked by someone she didn’t see, and that he said, “See you at the movies.” Bruce tells her about his poisoning and vows to find her attacker and/or his possible killer. For some reason, Bruce decides it’s time to pay a visit to Gordon. This is a great idea, though not for the reason Bruce thinks.
But Bruce quickly figures out that Gordon is more involved than he thought. He’s crossed out Bruce’s name on his screenplay and written in his own. Bruce also sees Gordon’s Scotch and realizes that that’s how he was poisoned. He grabs the decanter so he can take it to Dr. Martin and help her figure out what he was given, but Gordon stops him. Then he does that thing dumb villains do, where he reveals way too much. He killed Belinda, took her screenplay (the one he won the Oscar for), and was going to do the same to Bruce. He killed Marcus because Marcus had figured things out, and he attacked Lila so she couldn’t reveal Bruce as the real screenwriter.
Speaking of Lila, she and Jessica are at the hospital, discussing Bruce. Lila mentions that her attacker said, “See you at the movies,” which Jess remembers Gordon saying before. Jessica goes to Gordon’s office, where he and Bruce have just wrapped up a big battle. Gordon is about to strangle Bruce with a lamp cord when Jessica knocks him out with the first heavy object she can find: the decanter. There goes the Scotch that Dr. Martin could have tested. But somehow, miraculously, Bruce’s glass from the other day is still there, so Dr. Martin can test that.
Bruce and Jessica rush to the hospital, where they hand off the Scotch just before Bruce collapses. But don’t worry – Dr. Martin gets the antidote, and Bruce recovers. Professor Gordon is caught, and eventually confesses to his crimes. Then Bruce becomes a hot commodity in Hollywood, as everyone wants to turn his screenplay into a movie. Mm-hmm, sure.
Thoughts: This book unfolds like a movie plot, which is part of the reason it’s so awesome. I’d watch it as a movie.
Jessica’s screenplay, Supermodel Shop-a-thon, is about models vacationing in Paris. Is she 18 or 8?
Of course the detective Bruce talks to has a “gravelly” voice. Detectives in books and movies aren’t allowed to have any other kind of voice.
How and why does Bruce know how to hotwire a car?
If I were looking to buy a screenplay, I’d be more interested in one about Bruce’s experiences in this book than in the one he wrote. Plus, it has the built-in punch of being a true story.