Hard-boiled detective fiction first arose as a genre in the mid-1920s, and became very popular from the 30s to the 50s – think Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, or even the game L.A. Noire. Are you thinking of a fast-talking man with a 5 o’clock shadow, a long trench coat, and a drinking problem? That’s what pops into my head, too.

The Hollywood Spiral is like other such books and movies, but with a twist that changed everything – its very unsettling futuristic setting. 

The surveillance technology is controlled by one company, named Zodiac (yes, the operative teams under Zodiac are named after the star signs, and wear rings depicting the signs as well). The company basically works as a massive media conglomerate – which means that they run every ad you see, on every screen you have, and own all the content you create and stream.

This includes live streams from celebrities, TV shows, movies, and everything in between. With this control, Zodiac is able to build a personal profile, keep you addicted to what you consume, and keep you passive and under control. Zodiac ensures that its presence is felt in every corner of society – whether you asked for it or not. 

It isn’t clear if Zodiac is a separate company or if they work in tandem with the government, but their influence over the population is total and complete, resulting in Zodiac being able to use their technology to control the population. This includes every person having a particular ‘score’, and staying on the ‘grid’, AKA using Zodiac’s services and staying online 24/7.

Failure to do so can lower your score, and affect your ‘wellness’ and ‘compliance’ scores, which can result in an assessment conducted by Zodiac to assess whether you’re stable and fit to remain in society, or whether further action needs to be taken to ensure your obedience.  The worst part? Zodiac has teams of their own to ensure control – including using brute force to get what they want. 

Our protagonist, Harrigan, doesn’t like being on the grid and he tries to stay hidden – for the most part. His latest case (given to him by a man named Stan Volga, who is desperate and throws cash at Harrigan) is to find a young Danish woman, named Anna. The gangster, Charlie Horse, is also interested in Anna’s whereabouts, and Harrigan is forced into this from two fronts. Along the way, Harrigan uncovers a revolution that’s bubbling under the surface, where multiple factions each play their part in what can happen next, all led by a piece of technology that’s developed by Stan Volga and his partner. 

The technology is incredibly remarkable and dangerous to the status quo – which means that Harrigan gets sucked from a missing person case to one that threatens the way society is run, and the book slowly uncovers each missing piece, only to fully complete the puzzle at the very end. 

The book uses tropes that are typical in a hardboiled detective novel, focusing on Harrigan’s morally ambiguous past and his attempts to escape it, even though he keeps getting dragged back in. The unique thing about this novel is the world it’s set in – though hardboiled detective books are set in a morally grey past or present, this one is set in a morally grey future, one that’s all too easy to imagine. 

This mystery/thriller is unlike other detective novels I’ve read before – I’m more of a classics gal when it comes to detective fiction, a fan of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. The Hollywood Spiral manages to work in the detective trope while still adding in a fascinating, terrifying world – one that’s eerily similar to what is already happening in China, where everyone has a social score which directly affects their daily lives. 

The author dives into what it means to have your lives controlled by a singular company, and how consumption (of ads, of products, of media) becomes the only way to thrive and to avoid ‘Wellness and Compliance’ checks by Zodiac. Trust me, you don’t want to get called in for Assessment, because failing the Assessment can result in things that a company shouldn’t be allowed to do – like institutionalize you, for starters. 

Of course, the book can get confusing as well – the twist at the end had me furiously flipping pages back and forth to see if there were any signs, any elements that foreshadowed what was to come. Like any good story, The Hollywood Spiral ends on a mixed note – Harrigan does close the case, but he cracks another one wide open. With what he’s uncovered over the novel, the stability of Zodiac – and in turn, that society – is threatened, and we’re left to wonder how the world will change.

The book definitely made me view our technology with a wary eye – my constant screen-time and hours spent on Instagram and Tiktok have made me realize that we already live in a world that consumes – there just isn’t one massive conglomerate to combine all our data together and use it (or perhaps there is, and we just don’t know about it yet). Despite all that, the book was a wild ride, one that was thought-provoking and exciting all at the same time. If you’re looking for a mystery book to start off your summer, this is it. 

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  • Natalia Ahmed

    Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.


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