An amateur sleuth takes a nostalgic journey straight into danger to solve a Jazz Age murder.
Any Hollywood hopeful would envy Jessie Beckett, an assistant script girl for Douglas Fairbanks. She also doubles for Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart” and Jessie’s longtime idol. But Jessie’s job description changes when Mary introduces her to one of the cameramen for the Pickford–Fairbanks Studios. He was a juror for the murder trial of Ruby Glynn, accused of murdering her rival Lila Walker, and he’s haunted because he gave in to pressure to find her guilty. The evidence against Ruby, now facing the gallows, was so compelling that there was no police investigation; now Mary wants Jessie to do what the cops didn’t. With some success in outwitting gangsters, a previous gig as an impersonator, and the survivor’s instincts of someone who’s been on her own since she was a child, Jessie (Silent Murders, 2014, etc.) is clearly the right one for the job. Pretending to be interested in renting Lila’s newly available boardinghouse suite, she sees the place where Lila was stabbed and Ruby was found in a faint with a bloody knife in her hand. Although Ruby has lost hope, her suitor, a handsome Cuban actor who gets the roles Rudolph Valentino turns down, wants Jessie to clear Ruby’s name. Jessie finds evidence that Lila was blackmailing various Hollywood luminaries. The identity of one of her targets may be on an old program from the small-time vaudeville circuit Jessie traveled as a child. So she rejoins it as a member of a song-and-dance sister act in hopes of finding someone who remembers the people named on the program. The startling answer—and an ageless tale of jealousy and revenge—avails her little when, like a runaway train, her fortunes careen from one peril to another before reaching an only partially satisfying conclusion.
Despite an overburdened plot that still leaves one mystery unresolved, readers will welcome this third showcase for a valiant heroine with a shady past.