Life in la-la land is comfortable for Marty Burns these days, as angst-free as it ever gets for Tinseltown’s lesser lights. The TV detective show he stars in has lined his coffers, and though there’s been some slippage recently among those crucial 18-34’s, Marty guesses that the chop, when it comes, won’t be tomorrow. Besides, he’s significantly better off than his friend Hall Emerson, a fringe scriptwriter who hasn’t been getting calls lately even for C-list work. Guilty and superstitious, Marty says yes instantly when Hall asks for a favor. In addition, the former p.i. (Burning Bright, 1997, etc.) finds he sort of enjoys the sleuthing chore Hall sets for him. Fifty years earlier, a noirish movie called The Devil on Sunday became briefly memorable because a young actress was murdered during its filming. Turns out the victim was Hall’s mother, and now, for reasons he only partially divulges, he needs his pal to do some belated digging into her unsolved death. Marty obliges, and soon enough discovers hidden links to murky Hollywood history—that dark time when widespread blacklisting disrupted the careers and lives of so many of entertainment’s brightest and best. And he discovers, too, on a very personal level, that a little bit of inside knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
Russell has a sly way with figures of speech (“The desk was as tidy as Richard Gere’s hair”), but the mystery is slight, easily overwhelmed by long exchanges about greed and a lot of less pertinent stuff.