A would-be mystery boasting a smaller-than-life Sinatra.

THE DEVIL MAY DANCE

In 1962, Congressman Charlie Marder is sent to Hollywood to spy on Frank Sinatra and find out what special favor mobster Sam Giancana, a buddy of the singer's, wants from him.

Charlie, a moderate New York Republican, is forced into taking on the assignment. Under the authority of Attorney General Robert Kennedy (who makes a brief appearance), the feds have imprisoned Charlie's ailing father, power broker Winston Marder, on charges of consorting with criminals. They won't release him until Charlie gets the goods on Giancana. The congressman has fun out West posing as a consultant to The Manchurian Candidate, less fun when he and his sleuthing wife, Margaret, find a dead body in the trunk of their rented car. What's this secret worth killing for? Successful mysteries have been built on weaker premises, but Tapper does little in the way of plot construction. Stuffed with gossipy tidbits that have long withered on the vine and useless trivia (do we really need Janet Leigh explaining the technical achievement of Psycho?), this sequel to The Hellfire Club (2018) never gains steam. Sinatra is a cardboard figure who rants a lot, especially after his pal John F. Kennedy reneges on plans to stay with him during a presidential visit to California. Margaret, a zoologist who entertains herself categorizing the Rat Packers (Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford are "omega wolves"), awakens slowly to their alpha leader's true character: "Sinatra was so mercurial and abusive, she no longer thought his ego was that of the mere superstar." Charlie keeps talking himself into seeing the singer in a more positive vein: "Being a sociopath didn't necessarily mean an absence of charisma," he muses, appreciating Sinatra's "great acts of decency and humanity." The best exchange in the book, uttered at a murder scene, seems unintentionally funny: "Where's the phone?" "It's around her neck."

A would-be mystery boasting a smaller-than-life Sinatra.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-53023-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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