It’s a Mystery: Hollywood

I have this strange fascination with early Hollywood. Watching an old timey black & white show shot in southern California, wellsir, that’s about as good as it gets. And as we all know, I do love me a mystery. Fortunately, there are plenty of mysteries set in early 20th century Hollywood.

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And the Killer Is … by G. A. McKevett is the 25th and latest entry in the Savannah Reid mysteries series. While not all titles in this collection focus on Hollywood, And the Killer Is… moves between flashbacks to the golden age of Hollywood and the present. In this tale, 90-year-old former silver-screen siren Lucinda Faraday is found murdered, strangled with a pair of vintage stockings, and it’s up to PI Savannah Reid of the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency to bring the killer to justice.

Close Up by Amanda Quick is 2020’s addition to the Burning Cove mysteries series. Set near Hollywood in the 1930s resort town of Burning Cove, Close Up finds crime scene photographer Vivian Brazier in danger as she investigates the deadly Dagger Killer. Along with private eye Nick Sundridge, who solves cases with help from his dreams, Vivian is caught in the killer’s crosshairs and must find the murderer before she becomes his next victim.

Script for Scandal by Renee Patrick is the newest arrival in the Lillian Frost and Edith Head series of novels. Yes, that Edith Head. In 1939 Los Angeles, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost discovers herself entangled in the investigation of a 1936 bank robbery that’s been made into a Hollywood script. And her beau, LAPD detective Gene Morrow, the original investigator of the robbery, is a suspect in the subsequent murder of his partner. It’s up to Lillian to clear his name!

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The Impersonator by Mary Miley, an entry in the Roaring Twenties mysteries series, offers a different kind of intrigue. A 14-year-old heiress disappears and is found some years later by her uncle, acting in a vaudeville playhouse. But is this actress actually the heiress? After concluding that she is simply a lookalike, the uncle plots to use her to claim the fortune.

Girl About Town by Adam Shankman & Laura L. Sullivan, the first book in the Lulu Kelly mysteries series, spins the tale of a destitute woman who witnesses a mob murder and, as payment for her silence, is made into a Hollywood star. Along with a New-York-heir-turned-hobo she attempts to clear herself of attempted murder charges.

Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon by Clive Rosengren, the third book in the Eddie Collins mysteries series, finds former-actor-current-PI Eddie Collins helping an old flame look for her missing brother. Clues point to the brother’s ties to military police and eventually lead to Skid Row. Will Eddie succeed in finding the man as well as rekindling an extinguished romance?

I Didn’t Expect the Spanish Inquisition!

In one of the greatest Monty Python skits, Cardinal Ximinez of Spain pontificates, “Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms…”

Perhaps this bit of comedy has influenced my books-to-read list. I find myself thinking, “Amongst my reading objectives are forays into such diverse categories as non-fiction and YA, ruthless non-stop reading, an almost fanatical devotion to new books, and snazzy high tops…”

And then I forget everything and read another Perry Mason novel.

Dave BarryBut slowly I am expanding my choice of reading materials. After compiling a list of non-fiction titles I would like to attack, I promptly ignored it and read Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. By Dave Barry. As I ponder the world of non-fiction, it seems odd that humor is classified as part of it. One can certainly write a true story in a humorous style, but conversely, humor can just be made up stuff. This sometimes bothers me at night, interrupting much-needed sleep, but Dave Barry is funny and seldom bothers me (since the restraining order). And sure, there’s not much new under the sun in his approach to writing, but each of his books makes me laugh out loud, which is no mean feat. This collection of essays, ranging from teenage insecurities that never go away to the stupidity of refrigerating mustard and ketchup, kept me figuratively on the edge of my seat rolling on the floor with laughter, and then signaling for help up off the floor.

TinseltownTinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
I don’t seek out true crime unless it is exceedingly well-written (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote), educational and fascinating (Breaking Blue by Timothy Egan), or both. I chose to read Tinseltown because I’m starry-eyed about early Hollywood, a time when southern California was still a bit rural, when the status of movie stars and the content of movies were being defined. Here we find the true story of the murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Pictures Directors Association. Not a household name in this day and age, nor perhaps during his lifetime, but an important person in Hollywood none the less. This tale is as vivid as any well-penned novel, bringing century-old events to life. We learn a tremendous amount of history, of the growth of the film industry, the control that studios exerted over theatres, and the extreme power wielded by Adolph Zukor. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, of the drug and sex-crazed lifestyles of many of the early movie stars, which of course brought backlash from conservative religious groups. Be warned, this crime remains unsolved. I was looking forward to a nice wrap up with the detective in charge solving the crime some 30 years later, but it was not to be. The author does offer a solution, and it is plausible, but it is still guesswork rather than closure. However, that aside, this is one of the most entertaining, educational and enjoyable non-fiction books I’ve ever read!

AtlantisMeet Me in Atlantis: My Quest to Find the 2,500-Year-Old Sunken City by Mark Adams surfaced next on my random unplanned reading list. I have no particular interest in Atlantis, but this book seemed to be about the people who are interested in Atlantis. Now that I’m nearly finished I find that it’s also about theories, possible locations of Atlantis, and whether or not it was a real place. Amazingly, the only ancient reference to Atlantis was an extensive one made by Plato in two of his later works. As a kid watching cartoons, fictional shows and even documentaries, I thought that Atlantis was a widely documented lost continent, even though its authenticity was in doubt. Now I find out it was mentioned by one person in all of antiquity! Adams interviews philosophers, scientists, and Atlantis enthusiasts in an attempt to find out what’s the hubbub, bub? The author seems to vacillate in what he believes as he encounters one plausible theory after another.

After a year trapped in fiction I am excited to re-encounter the world of reality. The breadth of topics is astounding, and if one can find a good writer, learning becomes fun. I’ll be posting more new non-fiction reads as I continue my quest, so stay tuned!