Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Death Was in the Picture by Linda L. Richards

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Death Was in the Picture by Linda L. Richards. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Death Was in the Picture by Linda L. Richards

by
A Kitty Pangborn Mystery

St. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-38339-8 (0312383398)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-38339-8 (9780312383398)
Publication Date: January 2009
List Price: $24.95

Review: After her successful Los Angeles debut in Linda L. Richard’s Death Was The Other Woman, Kitty Pangborn, gal Friday to shamus Dexter Theroux, is back for an encore. Like Kitty’s first adventure, this one’s another fun-filled romp complete with bizarre but rounded characters slinging Depression-era slang like “gams,” “sawbuck,” “okies,” “mook” and “sheesh,” knocking noggins, and acknowledging 1930’s icons (Irving Thalberg) and historical landmarks (Hollywood and Vine). It’s “déjà vu all over again” for lovers of the hard-boiled detective genre, but this time with a tinge of noir at the end.

Narrator Kitty starts the story routinely enough with Dex hired by Xander Dean, a mug “only a couple of cheesecakes shy of three hundred pounds.” Dean wants Dex to shadow heart-throb actor Laird Wyndham at a party. But since things are never as simple as they seem, especially in mystery novels, Kitty and Dex are soon wrapped in a web of intrigue, a set-up for a sex scandal and a murder for which Wyndham is arrested and charged, despite his claims of a frame. Wyndham’s long-time lawyer then hires Dex to clear the actor. But the harder Dex and Kitty dig to clear their client, the deeper they get into the glue, especially when Xander Dean would sooner break Dex’s bean than let him break their original contract and defend the suspected murderer. As Dex, Kitty and Mustard scratch and sniff on Wyndham’s behalf, and Dex and Kitty attend the Masquers Annual Ball, they uncover some unlikely connections to the League of Decency, the Sodalists, the Hays Office, the William Morris Agency, and the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. They follow leads stretching from Chicago to Pittsburgh to St. Louis to a Hollywood film set, giving new meaning to “going behind the scenes” with Kitty as an extra in a lead-lined dress, Dex as a faux financier blowing smoke and Mustard as his chauffer. In their search for the truth and its consequences they come across a hophead victim named Fleur McKenzie and an off-the-wall Hollywood trophy wife with a houseful of cats. They encounter several starlets with legs that won’t quit, and a couple of incompetent “flatfoots” monikered Houlahan and O’Reilly who work for Chief Roy E. Steckel. There’s coffee called “joe” and a conflicted anti-Semite censor called Joe Breen. And all the while Kitty’s still recalling her Dad and how he lost his fortune and his life, still berating Mustard for calling her “Kitty,” and still living with Marjorie Oleg, once her nanny and now her landlady and favourite cook. Most of all, she’s still fiercely loyal to Dex despite his frequent TKOs in his battles with the bottle, old memories and new enemies. And once the intrepid trio has sufficiently ragged on the suspects and yakked over the clues about the murder and the frame, Kitty outlines a final scenario with a surprise ending that undoubtedly would have sent the real “Mean” Joe Breen and the boys at the 1930s Hays Office scrambling for their censors’ scissors.

In her author’s note, Linda Richards says that the more research she did for her novel, the more she felt this was “a story worth telling.” She’s right.

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (mw_cunningham@telus.net) for contributing his review of Death Was in the Picture.

Review Copyright © 2009 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

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Synopsis (from the publisher): In 1931, while most of Los Angeles is struggling to survive the Depression, the business of Hollywood is booming. And everyone wants a piece. The movies have always been cutthroat and, as girl Friday Kitty Pangborn is about to find out, that’s more than a metaphor.

Kitty’s boss, private detective Dexter Theroux, has been asked to help leading man Laird Wyndham prove his innocence. The actor was the last person to be seen with a young actress who died under very suspicious circumstances, and the star has fallen from the big screen to the big house. Wyndham’s a dreamboat, but that isn’t the only thing that has Kitty hot under the collar. Dex has already signed a client -- one who’s hired him to prove Wyndham’s hands are not as clean as they look.

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