The Last Long Drop by Mike Safe
An aging Hollywood heartthrob plans his last great film, the celluloid swansong that will stamp his legacy. Australian by birth, he splits his downtime surfing at Noosa, Malibu, or Fiji.
Meanwhile, after thirty years of service a middle-aged journalist is made redundant and now spends torpid days at the beach questioning his future. His bouts of introspection interrupted by conversations over egg and bacon rolls on the boardwalk and the odd surf session with mates.
The two central threads of Mike Safe’s latest novel, The Last Long Drop, connect when the actor, Mike Vargas, recruits the journalist, Johno Harcourt, to ghostwrite his biography, thereby kickstarting a spirited summertime novel where suspension of disbelief meets hard-boiled reality. Call it satire with lashings of truth, and plenty of surf scenes too.
Reality comes from knowing that author Mike Safe is a surfer - to his credit he keeps the language in house - and he was also let loose after a long career as a feature writer at The Weekend Australian. The disruption of modern media is cause for commentary in The Last Long Drop, and it’s not much of a stretch for the reader to imagine Safe walking down the beach wondering what thirty years of journalism experience counts for in the internet age.
His protagonist, Johno Harcourt, does exactly that, yet The Last Long Drop is less life imitating art and more an extended meta-reference. Dislodged from his profession, Safe parachutes himself into his semi-fictional world where a spurned journo gets a prize gig with a Hollywood megastar.
Early descriptions of Mike Vargas show him more as caricature than character; a Sydney surfer made good, mixing Hellenic charm and muscle he presents as an Antipodean Sylvester Stallone - popular at the box office yet snubbed by critics. It’s that last assessment that Vargas wants to correct before bowing out. He lines up the Hollywood money men to back his final knock-em-dead movie.
However, with Harcourt now on the scene, details of Vargas’ past life begin to emerge, the kinds of things you won't read on IMDb, it’s grist to a feature writer’s mill, the darkness that gives the portrait depth, yet it has potential to throw shade all over Vargas’ airbrushed image.
The early tempo, plus cover art and title, suggests The Last Long Drop to be an airport thriller, but instead Safe lays out an array of plotlines that progress in parallel, before concluding on a reef in the South Pacific, not with a bombastic showdown, but precise circularity.