In Hollywood of 1939, a handsome young policeman makes good as a studio security officer, battling a sadistic mobster, finding love, and rubbing elbows with movie stars.
While patrolling the Sunset Strip late one evening, Beverly Hills cop Rick Barron happens upon the immediate aftermath of a bad two-car accident. He recognizes the barely injured occupant of one vehicle as highly intoxicated British matinee idol Clete Barrow. The quick-thinking Rick, at the instruction of Barrow’s handler Eddie Harris, whisks the movie star away from the scene, allowing the studio to spin its own version of the crash and Barrow to emerge unscathed. As a result, Rick lands a job as Barrow’s shadow, charged mainly with keeping the star sober and ready for his early morning calls. Other security odd jobs come Rick’s way. He becomes pals with Barrow, whose heavy drinking stems in part from concern over the nascent conflict in Europe and his desire to help the British war effort. Through Barrow, Rick meets Gable & Lombard, Garbo, Niven, and other luminaries, who make cameo appearances. Mystery swirls around Rick’s predecessor, John Kean. The distraught Kean allegedly shot his wife before turning his gun on himself. In Kean’s office safe, Rick finds incriminating photos of four people having kinky sex, the Keans and another unidentified couple, whom Rick meets shortly. The man is hotheaded soldier of Bugsy Siegal, Chick Stampano, in appearance a latter-day Valentino who likes to take out his anger on starlets. (Organized crime is moving into Hollywood in a big way; Lucky Luciano also has a foothold.) One of these starlets is the girl in the picture, Glenna Gleason, whom Rick woos by inches. Stampano becomes Rick’s nemesis, their confrontations progressively escalating until a final showdown becomes inevitable.
Woods (Reckless Abandon, 2004, etc.) writes with smooth confidence as famous names add spice to a diverting summer read that simmers but never gets hard-boiled.