1940, Hollywood. Toby Peters, an ex-security guard turned private detective, is hired by Warner Studios to sort out an attempted blackmail of one of its major stars – a gentleman by the name of Errol Flynn. Flynn is no angel, but denies knowing the underage young lady who appears in an incriminating photograph with him. Before you know it, one suspect blackmailer is dead and someone has tried to kill Flynn. And unfortunately, they did both these things using Toby’s gun…
An historical novel of an entirely different breed here, namely one that using a setting and actual people that some people who are still alive will know. I’ve mentioned before my distaste when this was done by Ian Rankin in Black and Blue, but is that the case here? After all Flynn was known not to be the salt of the earth. And neither were some of the other “real” people who appear here – and there are quite a few…
I recently received an email from MysteriousPress.com asking if I’d like to review any of their rather extensive back catalogue. The company was founded in 1975 but now has made a significant inroad into the ebook market. Among the fifty-or-so authors represented are James Ellroy, John Harvey, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and most importantly to me, Clayton Rawson – all of the Merlini books, including the ludicrously hard to get short stories. Anyway, after a quick browse, this one caught my eye.
I’m not an aficionado of 1940’s Hollywood, but I know a bit, and it seemed like an intriguing setting for a mystery. Partly because of the backdrop of the movies, but this was an America where part of the world was at war, so I was interested in any sense of tension concerning that. Well, there wasn’t much of that, if any, but there was plenty of movie stuff.
Peters is an interesting character – he confesses that he’s not the brightest of private eyes, but is stubborn. He’s pretty much down on his luck at the start of the book but his tenacity sees him through, along with a fairly quick wit. It helps – sort of – that his brother is on the police force, but Peters’ sense of fairness does tend to get in the way. I suppose this would be classed as a hardboiled mystery, as there’s a bit of sex in it, but it’s not a violent book by any means.
It’s an absorbing read, and I was delighted to see that there are over twenty books in this series alone. The hardboiled style isn’t usually my cup of tea, as it tends to neglect the mystery, and in this case, that is partly true. There aren’t really any clues to the murderer – indeed, I found myself using the Kindle search facility to find out who the character was, as I’d forgotten about them/not registered them in the first place – but the overall picture can, I think, be worked out by the reader, although not easily. Despite the parsity/complete lack of clues, I was surprised to find that, at the end of the book, it hadn’t bothered me at all.
I can imagine some readers getting a little tired of the Hollywood cameos – let’s face it, we know when he turns up that Peter Lorre isn’t the murderer – but there’s some genuinely interesting bits and pieces about films being made at the time that the book is set. I do wonder if the sheer volume of movie trivia is first-novel-syndrome – well, I’ll let you know in the future, as this series has certainly got me coming back for more. Recommended.