An entertaining, fast-paced mystery.

MURDER ABOARD THE HIGHLAND ROSE

From the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series , Vol. 18

In this 18th entry in Fischer’s (Ashes to Ashes, 2018, etc.) mystery series, a Hollywood novelist/screenwriter runs into danger when his latest project threatens to expose old secrets about President John F. Kennedy’s father.

Joe Bernardi, once a top Hollywood publicist, has shifted careers to write novels and screenplays, but he often finds himself investigating Tinseltown murders and scandals. In 1963, his publisher intriguingly asks him to write a nonfiction account of a 35-year-old murder aboard the yacht Highland Rose. The alleged shooter was Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the president’s dad—and surprisingly, the book proposal is coming from JFK’s inner circle. Apparently, the president’s enemies are preparing their own hatchet job, and his allies want to get ahead of it. The trail’s gone cold since 1929, when the elder Kennedy was a rich but relatively unknown bootlegger. Murder victim Archie Farrell, a second-rate, alcoholic talent agent, was similarly obscure. But some Hollywood bigwigs were on the yacht, too, including Farrell’s wife, the glamorous actress Gladys Cooper; and Gloria Swanson, Kennedy’s mistress. Bernardi tracks down the original newspaper, police, and crew accounts in Monterey Bay, where the yacht was moored, as well as still-living witnesses, including Cooper and Swanson. He also confronts lies, evasions, and beatings, which only spur his resolve—but in the end, the facts may not be the most important thing. Fischer is a former screenwriter and producer for such TV shows as Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, and he knows how to tell a compelling story. The gumshoe-style mystery at the heart of his novel is intriguing in itself, but it gets an extra boost from the Hollywood glamour that surrounds it; for example, readers get to visit the set of the film My Fair Lady, in which Cooper is one of the actors, and Bernardi offers his opinion that casting Audrey Hepburn as the lead is a terrible idea. The story has a sense of pathos, as well, revealing how less-powerful players were affected by the Highland Rose incident, and as Bernardi bemoans the bitterness, anger, and division of 1963, the author holds a mirror up to our own fractious era.

An entertaining, fast-paced mystery.

Pub Date: March 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9960491-7-7

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Grove Point Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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