O’Donovan (Dublin Dead, 2012, etc.) rolls out a brand-new sleuth just in time to toss him into a fictionalization of the second-hottest real-life murder case of Jazz Age Hollywood.
Still reeling from the fallout over the trial of Fatty Arbuckle for complicity or worse in the death of starlet Virginia Rappe, Mack Sennett wants no scandal to darken the gates of the Famous Players–Lasky studio. So when star director William Desmond Taylor’s fatal heart attack turns out to have been caused by (oops) a bullet in the back, Sennett demands that freelance operative Tom Collins get in contact with Sennett’s biggest star, comedienne Mabel Normand, to make sure that whatever involvement she has in the case stays out of the press and out of the courtroom. It’s a tough assignment, because Normand, who’s clearly up to her eyeballs in cocaine, has gone into seclusion. Even after Tom tracks her down, she refuses to talk to him, and later she tells Sennett she won’t come back to work unless he lets Tom go. That leaves Tom nothing to do but get hounded by Aloysius Devlin, the rotten apple who followed Tom out from the NYPD to become Deputy Chief of the Port of San Pedro, and Tony Cornero, a high-level bootlegger who’s just as interested as Sennett in enforcing silence. While Devlin and Cornero take turns bullying Tom and framing him for Taylor’s murder, the obligatory celebrity cameos parade across the stage, although neither Taylor’s neighbor Edna Purviance nor Mary Pickford wannabe Mary Miles Minter actually puts in an appearance. Everyone’s drinking, everyone’s using, and most everyone seems to be Irish.
Given the high readings on the corruption meter, the final revelations are bound to be anticlimactic. But O’Donovan, who’s clearly done his homework, has fun amid the fleshpots of 1922 Hollywood, and like-minded fans will too.