Wherever it is, he goes. Whenever it’s buried, he digs. Whatever it takes, he does. Estleman introduces an amiable new sleuth in an offbeat new series.
Meet Valentino, the “film detective.” You’d better call him Val, since he divulges his surname only under bureaucratic duress—to renew his driver’s license or buy airplane tickets. Employed by the Department of Film Preservation at UCLA, he chases old celluloid. Whether it’s Birth of a Nation or Steamboat Willie, if it’s in danger of decomposition, vaporization or dissolution, he’s after it with the tenacity of a hunting dog. It’s a living, but clearly Val is movie-struck as well: “He couldn’t act, direct, or write screenplays, but he could Dumpster-dive with the best.” So it figures that when he needs a place to live, he buys The Oracle. Once a gorgeous example of the opulent age of movie theater architecture, The Oracle is now a ruin. When his hard-selling realtor calls it “a fixer-upper,” Val knows better but can’t resist. His purchase is fraught with unintended, mind-boggling consequences. In a hidden room, he finds the remnants of a silent-film classic along with the remnants of an old, cold murder case. To save the first, Val must somehow solve the second.
A bonbon that can’t be expected to grip like Estleman’s edgier stuff (Gas City, 2008, etc.). Still, it’s an entertaining journey, especially for movie buffs.