Mort, author of volumes about Cochise, Custer, and Hemingway, takes a fictional look at Depression-era Hollywood.
Sex with Ethel Welkin has its rewards, as Riley Fitzhugh discovers. The chunky matron isn’t half bad in the sack; even better, she’s the cousin of producer Manny Stairs. And it’s Ethel’s introduction of Riley to her cousin that sets Riley’s career as a detective into high gear, since Stairs, having long ago abandoned his given name of Shlomo Rabinowitz, wants to hire the aspiring gumshoe to find his missing girlfriend, Catherine Moore, who’s a dead ringer for Minnie David, Stairs’ late wife. Of course, Stairs doesn’t know Riley as Riley. Like Old Possum’s cats, the sleuth has three separate names. To chumps like Stairs, he’s Bruno Feldspar, while highbrows like art professor Dennis “Bunny” Finch-Hayden know him as Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. Bunny is helping Riley/Bruno/D’Invilliers authenticate a Monet stolen from Charles Watson, possibly by Wilbur Hanson, the lover of Mrs. Emily Watson. While juggling the Moore and Monet cases, Riley also juggles Ethel, his girlfriend; Myrtle George, who’s about to achieve stardom under the screen name Yvonne Adore; Isabelle Fern, a neighbor of the Watsons whose movie career as Rita Lovelace isn’t quite as promising as Myrtle/Yvonne’s; and Catherine, whom he eventually locates aboard a gambling boat. Between shtupping (Riley’s favorite term for his carnal romps, borrowed from Manny) and thinking up pseudonyms, there isn’t much time for detecting. Luckily for him, the cases basically solve themselves.
Stretches of moderately brisk dialogue are punctuated by absolute clunkers, like Mort’s description of Ethel, who “resembled a fire hydrant in both length and shape.” As Manny might say, there’s just too much meshugas here.