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.