Written by Ed Kurtz — Last month we reviewed Freight, a novella by Ed Kurtz published by Australia’s Crime Factory team. Now he returns with his second full crime fiction novel, this time published by American indie house Dark Fuse.
Graham Woodward is back in his native Boston, still bitter, but increasingly resigned to the fact that his Hollywood adventure faied. He may not have made it there as a screenwriter, but unlike his buddy Jake Maitland at least he is still on the periphery of the industry and art form he loves, working to convert old movies from their unstable celluloid to digital.
He is contacted by Leslie Wheeler from the Silent Film Appreciation Society in Los Angeles. She has been given a single reel of old stock that may just represent the Holy Grail for both of them. Angel of the Abyss has taken on mythic status for film scholars. The film was made in 1926, before the major studios locked Hollywood up. Its star, Grace Baron, disappeared before filming was completed. The movie was never released and its producer Saul Veritek was ruined. Its director, a young Tyro named Jack Parson, survived the flop and went on to establish a Hollywood dynasty.
Woodward accepts the offer to come to LA to restore the film and Maitland, at a loose end, goes with him. When they touch down the limo Wheeler promised would be waiting for them never arrives. Woodward is starting to believe that there is something amateurish about his employer, but when they arrive at her office they find the room trashed and Wheeler murdered. It’s not long before someone is taking shots at Woodward. Despite being warned off by the cops, Woodward and Maitland decide to work with Wheeler’s partner Barbara Maitland to try find her killer. To do that they will have to unravel a 90-year-old Hollywood mystery that people are willing to kill for to keep buried.
The way Kurtz has structured his book really adds to its enjoyment. Alternately the chapters are set in the present day, and during the making of the original film. The present day mystery is narrated either by Woodward or Maitland, depending upon who is in the better condition at any one time, and the clearly different voices of the two characters is testament to Kurtz’ talent. Woodward is losing patience with his old friend whom he sees as lazy and inconsiderate and is starting to very much regret letting him tag along. Maitland’s own narration though reveals him to possess hidden depths of loyalty and tenacity which Woodward cannot recognise.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the shooting of the film for fear of spoiling the fun. Suffice it to say that we learn a lot more about the principals of Angel of the Abyss, and the mystery surrounding it is just as potent as the one of its rediscovery. Kurtz evokes the Hollywood of the past effortlessly.
If Freight promised great things for the future, then Angel of the Abyss delivers on that promise.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars