Martin M. Goldsmith’s “Detour” was written in 1939 before Vegas was a thing. Alexander Roth finds himself somewhere in New Mexico as he is hitch-hiking to Los Angeles. Except for Phoenix and Tucson, there is nothing but desert between Roth and his goal, to meet up back with his girl, Sue Harvey. Both Harvey and Roth narrate this novel in alternating chapters. Roth begins the story by getting picked up by a Mr. Haskell. Roth tells the reader his story, what he can pick up of Haskell’s story and by the end of Chapter One, life changes drastically for both Roth and Haskell.
One of the things we learn about Roth is that he’s a liar and not a bright one at that. When Haskell asks Roth where he’s from, Haskell responds with Detroit rather with New York City. “I don’t know why I said that; there really was no call to lie. Maybe I was so accustomed to lying it had become a habit, I don’t know. But that’s me all over. For the life of me, I can’t figure myself out.”
Chapter Two ushers in Harvey’s voice which I didn’t find all that believable, not in the same sense I didn’t believe Roth, rather it is Goldmsith’s plundering about that makes Harvey seem unreal. Los Angeles really isn’t working out to well for Harvey.
It seemed scarcely believable, but only a few months before I too had thought Hollywood a glamorous place. I had arrived so thoroughly read-up on the misinformation of the fan magazines that it took me a full week before I realized that the “Mecca” was no more than a jerkwater suburb which publicity had sliced from Los Angeles—a suburb peopled chiefly by out and out hicks (the kind of dumbbells who think they are being wild and sophisticated if they stay up all night) or by Minnesota farmers and Brooklyn smart alecks who think they know it all. I soon saw that there were only two classes of society: the suckers, like myself, who had come to take the town; and the slickers who had come to take the suckers. Both groups were plotters and schemers and both on the verge of starvation.
There are some plot points as well as some character behavior that I had problems with, but “Detour” ended as a pulp novel should. As Roth narrates, “Whether people’s hopes are the result of pictures or pictures are based on hopes, I can’t say. However, in real life, things rarely happen so conveniently.”