Written by Bruce Crowther — Harry Kenning and Billy Ross are former Hollywood actors who never quite hit the big time. Back in the 1950s, the glory days of Rialto Pictures Studios, they were better known as the Hurricane Kid and Smiley Browne, but they have since retired, moved to Utah or drowned their sorrows in drink. After the death of Harry’s wife, the two friends return to their old stomping ground in LA in an effort to reconcile with Harry’s estranged daughter, Lucy, who is working there as a journalist.
Toshiko Tanaka is a no-nonsense third generation Japanese American detective, newly transferred to Homicide. Her very first case involves the sadistic killing of a bit-part actor in old-time movies. This murder is quickly followed by another and both bear all the hallmarks of the serial killings that took place within the Rialto Pictures community 50 years previously. Copycat killer? Or is it possible that the real killer was never apprehended, and is now back with a vengeance? Detectives and actors, journalists and relatives all have to work together to solve this case. All have a role to play, as they pool their knowledge, investigative skills, memories and connections.
Crowther does a good job of recreating the atmosphere of a particularly tormented period of Hollywood culture, at the end of the Golden Era of the great studios, just as McCarthyism was starting to destroy so many movie careers. The story moves back and forth between the 1950s and the present, which in this story is 2001. We are introduced to a broad cast of characters, and become fully immersed in their gossip, jealousies, petty rivalries, as well as the nasty tricks they play on each other. It becomes evident that the original investigation was flawed and that many people have something to hide. There are far more deadly links between the past and the present than anyone suspected.
The final solution is a brutal surprise, and the horrific storyline jars with the author’s chatty, rather charming storytelling style. Also, it can be difficult to recall certain characters, there are so many. Perhaps fewer characters, with more in-depth analysis of the idiosyncrasies and motivations of each, would have done better justice to the story. Some of them have a tendency to pontificate in long paragraphs about the evidence, although on the whole the author has a good ear for dialogue.
This book will probably be too gory for those who enjoy cosy period novels, and too soft-boiled for those who like their crimes black and threatening. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read, to be recommended for its loving recreation of an era.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars