In Barry’s thriller, a TV writer complicates his life when investigating a suspicious death that has ties to the prospective web series he’s currently a part of.
Conor Fallon has played the Hollywood game, disillusioned by others’ stealing his stories and ideas. Now (apparently the late 1990s), he’s barely scraping by in Los Angeles with a temp job, trying to support his wife, Juliet, and their infant son at home. So when Rand Bainreich, an old colleague, offers him a writing gig for a new series, Conor is simultaneously excited and wary. Mystery of Cydonia is, according to Rand, the first of its kind: an internet series for the website Sci-Fi Nexus. Conor has his eyes peeled for red flags, including the fact that the show’s premise is the same idea he pitched to Rand a couple of years prior. Meanwhile, the writer is fascinated by the recent death of actress Pamela Davenport. With details from newscaster friend Cal Reyburn, Conor learns that her death, initially believed to be accidental, shows indications of foul play. After realizing that Pam had originally been cast in Cydonia, he slowly discovers specific connections between her and individual crew members, leading Conor to surmise he’s working with a murderer. Barry (Sub Rosa: The Lost Formula, 2016, etc.) based his novel partly on his time as a Hollywood writer. The story is at its best with the TV show; Conor is perpetually on guard for duplicity, such as the indefinite withholding of his paycheck so that he works for free. There’s a successful fusion of fictional and real-life TV shows and movies, which adds realism to a tale set in Hollywood. Some of the titles are humorous parodies, including Saturday Night Boogie and Star Trails, for which Conor wrote (Barry has written for Star Trek). The concurrent murder plot is less engaging, though Barry keeps it simple, allowing the Cydonia storyline to shine. The taut prose furthermore ensures the narrative, rife with potential killers, never bores.
A thoroughly riveting Hollywood story of lies, back-stabbing, and murder.