Design for Dying

"Hollywood is lousy with beauty queens." After being crowned Miss Astoria Park of 1936, Lillian Frost headed for Los Angeles to break into the movies, only to settle for a recurring bit part as a department-store salesgirl. But when fellow aspiring actress Ruby Carroll--Lillian's frenemy and former roommate--turns up dead in an alley, Lillian steps into a new walk-on role: amateur detective. As she digs into Ruby's murder, Lillian gains an unlikely co-star in costume designer Edith Head. Renee Patrick (the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team) turns in a sparkling debut performance in Design for Dying.

Determined to catch Ruby's killer, Lillian travels around the city to interview Ruby's friends, colleagues and (often unsavory) paramours. Her visits to Edith at Paramount Pictures allow Patrick to slip in cameos by various Hollywood luminaries, including Barbara Stanwyck and Billy Wilder. Edith's no-nonsense direction on the case, and a little help from a handsome police detective, put Lillian closer to a solution--but not before she's in danger of losing both her day job and her life.

Lillian's first-person narration glitters with show-business metaphors, such as a morning when "the dawn light was still in rehearsals" and "coffee black enough to be accessorized by diamonds." The mystery's solution is both clever and cinematic, and the denouement leaves room for a planned series. For readers who love Hollywood, high fashion, strong women and witty dialogue, Design for Dying is a thoroughly entertaining first act. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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