Beautiful women and gangsters, movie stars and dictators all rub shoulders in this delicious tongue-in-cheek debut set in 1920s Hollywood.
There’s a young guy in a tux on the pier in Venice, outside Los Angeles; he’s our narrator, Brae Orrack, an odd duck on a quixotic mission to find true love and fend off a deadly curse placed on him by his father, the Great Orrack. They are both “magic men,” and Brae is about to perform his one trick, turning stones into bees. Laugh if you like, but the trick will get him out of life-threatening jams down the road. It’s Lily who gets him out of his current jam (no rent money); she’s a would-be actress and fellow lodger at their boardinghouse. She sends him to a “repairman” at Paramount, who hires Brae to nursemaid their new star Gary Cooper and see that Coop’s womanizing doesn’t get him into trouble. Fat chance. Soon enough, a jilted Lupe Velez is threatening Coop with a knife (Brae disarms her), and the equally jilted Clara Bow is attempting suicide. These are sideshows. The real deal is femme fatale Nell Devereaux, flier and mountain climber. Both men fall for her, Brae believing that here indeed is true love. It’s too bad Nell is the plaything of Cuban dictator General Machado, who’s involved with notorious gangster Owney Madden. Coop and Brae will pursue her to an offshore gambling ship where, amazingly, Brae saves Madden’s life. This will earn him an even more dangerous assignment—working for Owney—that takes him to Key West in a puddle-jumper. Base works his own magic as he crisply choreographs the entrances and exits of his large cast. There will be thrills aplenty before we are done, and disillusionment but never defeat for the resilient Brae. Do we believe him? “Have you ever had reason to doubt me?” he asks. It’s the last line. You can see the big wink.
A page-turner, spiffy and irresistible.