In this stylish homage to the detective novels of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a press agent stumbles across a starlet’s dead body and into the seamy world of scheming players and morally bankrupt movie moguls.
An aging actress whose star has fallen, a thuggish bodyguard, a Holy Rolling studio head, an actor whose sexuality is in flux—these people inhabit the world of beleaguered publicist Joe Bernardi. Like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Joe operates in a 1940s Los Angeles full of femmes fatales, hucksters, and shady movers and shakers. But he’s no hard-drinking tough guy, just a man desperate to clear his name—the cops think he killed a dead actress—while trying to find satisfaction in his job at second-rate Continental Studios. He also wouldn’t mind reuniting with his ex-wife, Lydia, whose house he watches in the wee hours. Joe’s struggling to regain his life after the war, and his soft heart and fledgling courage stand out against the old-fashioned whodunit plot in which there’s no shortage of suspects, including Mafia men, all with convincing motives for murder. Adding depth and color are descriptions of LA that are at once nostalgic and believable. Observations from Joe’s viewpoint slyly echo the era and the genre: “the job suits her like a size 2 silk slip,” and “he can squeeze a penny hard enough to make Lincoln cry.” That’s what makes the story snap: the familiar yet original characters and their sparkling dialogue. Author Fischer spent many years as a Hollywood scriptwriter, and his talent for authentic voice and tight repartee shines in this first installment of the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series. The background is steeped in movie lore, with names and events of the time—Farley Granger, Gail Russell and the Black Dahlia murder case—cropping up to set the tale against real Hollywood history. Layered with complex relationships that are rarely what they seem, the tightly drawn plot carefully unveils its mysteries; even as one murder is solved, more twists pop up to ensure revelations right up to the satisfying ending.
An enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit from opening act to final curtain.