In this sequel, a struggling actress’s career break takes a deadly turn when she learns the accidental deaths of two stars who preceded her in a role may have been murders.
Jenna Howland is not a detective, but she is the daughter of one, and she has just been cast to play one on TV. Her joy is short-lived when the sister of one of the show’s two dead actresses visits Jenna to share her certainty that her sibling was murdered and that the series’ handsome, charismatic leading man, Jake Cottington, is a likely suspect. (He was also dating the other dead actress who played the role Jenna just landed.) Jenna wonders whether this part is like the Hope Diamond: cursed. She decides to play a real-life investigator: “When Jenna was a young girl, she’d overheard” her father “discuss cases and sort out facts and motives so she learned from an early age how to investigate—a skill that she would need for her part but more importantly, to save her life.” That is a promising high concept for a mystery series. But Jenna shares top billing in this story with Detective Philip Westmore, introduced in Richman’s unpublished debut novel, A Dangerous Transformation. Westmore is initially ill-prepared to answer Jenna’s inquiries about the two deaths; it is his first day as a senior detective with the Malibu Police Department. He discovers that his predecessors were sloppy in their investigations and soon has a cast of suspects, including Jake; Freeda Brown, a has-been who coveted the role Jenna got; and hotshot producer Hugh Blackman and his wife, Charla, who loves her lavish lifestyle more than her cheating, abusive husband. Jenna and Philip are appealing characters and make a good team. But the tale suffers in the execution. After having established Jenna’s new job as a star on a TV series, the author at one point refers to it as a movie. On three occasions, Philip’s name is spelled with two l’s. There is the odd incomplete sentence (“Though, she wasn’t going to correct her until she got some information”). And the story’s Hollywood portions are less convincing than the procedural and trial scenes. Would Jenna, an unknown, be hired without being screen-tested with Jake—never mind the question of whether a network would continue a series after two of its stars died.
A perfect setting but an imperfect mystery.