Movies are the stuff nightmares of made of in this debut noir thriller.
For the protagonist of what may well become a series, former L.A. Weekly film critic Knode, spouse of bestselling James Ellroy, comes up with Ann Whitehead, film critic for a fictional magazine, L.A. Millennium, an edgy publication that seems about to slide into celebrity journalism while Whitehead, an emotionally tight iconoclast, fears she’ll end up writing puff pieces about the likes of Tom Cruise. The morning after a party at a house where she’s the caretaker, Ann discovers aspiring screenwriter Greta Stenholm in a pool-house bathtub, dead from stab wounds. Since the weapon came from Ann’s kitchen, she’s a suspect. But Ann seeks to do more than clear herself: she sees the murder as the subject of the Hollywood story she’ll write to escape the drudgery of reviewing action thrillers. She manipulates her skuzzy editor for the assignment and sets out to find the killer in a violent and soiled Hollywood that Raymond Chandler would appreciate. Ann teams up with LAPD detective Doug Lockwood and eventually, in a solid, credible moment, makes emotional contact with him and with herself. Film-land detritus—agents, producers, faded extras, film-school friends—form the complex nest of suspects. Ann and Doug close in on Casa de Amor, a cluster of bungalows with a shady history traceable back to Hollywood’s golden age. Plotting is dense by now, as even Ann and Doug observe that “there are too many suspects and motives.” An underground chase and some family melodrama push matters over the top. Still, Knode lands a final, affecting point: even in a day of a “human prophylactic” like Cruise, some lost souls still believe in the ultimate good of the movies.
A promising start down the mean streets of Culver City.