Journalist-turned-memoirist Benjamin Justice, who’s most compelling when he’s got a stake in the evil concealed by a murder (Moth and Flame, 2005, etc.), meets his silliest case at a doom-ridden California motel.
Fifty years ago, on the eve of wrapping a film about her undying love for her late husband, Hollywood star Rebecca Fox died violently. Finding a convenient black handyman nearby and semen stains on Rebecca’s underwear, the locals promptly lynched Ed Jones for the murder. Twenty-five years later to the day, Rebecca’s daughter Brandy, a failed actress, slit her own throat in the same room where her mother died. Now producer Zeke Zeidler and director Lois Aswell plan to celebrate the golden anniversary of Rebecca’s murder by shooting their own film about the case at the same location, the Haunted Springs Motel. Naturally, they invite Justice’s friend, L.A. Times crime reporter Alexandra Templeton, and naturally, Templeton persuades Justice to come too. The Haunted Springs turns out to be playing host not only to a young Adonis who providentially comes on to Justice but enough fresh violence, trash-talking suspects, misleading photos, phony alibis, red herrings, rickety revelations and thunderclap surprises (including a literal bolt of lightning) for a whole shelf of Agatha Christie novels, all presented with a surprising lack of conviction.
Justice deserves a break from his West Hollywood beat, but fans can only pray for his return to La-La-Land from Never-Never-Land.