A third sort-of-mystery for the screenwriter hero of Death is a Lonely Business (1985) and A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), now grown old enough to be a disillusioned hack, but not old enough to have acquired a name.
It’s a dark and stormy night when silent star Constance Rattigan turns up outside the writer’s bungalow quivering with fright. The reason lies in a pair of anonymous gifts: a 60-year-old Los Angeles telephone directory from 1900 and her own little black book, discarded long ago but now mysteriously returned annotated with symbols that seem to mark her and her few surviving friends for death. At dawn, hours after his intuitive wife Maggie has phoned from a teachers’ conference to ask who’s in bed with him, he awakens to find Rattigan gone. Her astral disappearance is the first indication, apart from the antic prose, that this is no ordinary whodunit, even though the body count will eventually stretch to include astrologer to the stars Queen Califia (née Alma Crown), whose go-for-it reading of June 10, 1932, got Constance to leap into holy matrimony with Clarence Rattigan (né Overholt); Constance’s brother, Father Seamus Rattigan of St. Bibiana’s; and her ancient father, Grauman’s Chinese projectionist Clyde Rustler. As the hero and his sidekick, beer-swilling shamus Elmo Crumley, rocket like pinballs from down-again filmmaker Fritz Wong to Hollywood Everyman Alberto Quickly and Hollywood Everywoman J. Wellington Bradford, hope fades that their madcap adventures will end in solving the case. But SF legend Bradbury (One More for the Road, p. 227, etc.) miraculously produces a solution that honors both the mystery formula and his own deeper roots in fantasy.
Only one question remains: Has the superheated prose on display here finally caught up with the postmodernism of Don Webb’s pastiches, or has postmodernism caught up with the prophetic Bradbury? Tune in next week.