The Glamorous Dead

Most of the action in Suzanne Gates's debut mystery, The Glamorous Dead, takes place in 1940, on a Hollywood movie set while Preston Sturges films his classic screwball comedy, The Lady Eve. Between takes and after hours, the film's leading lady, Barbara Stanwyck, plays amateur sleuth to solve the murder of one of the film's extras.

While the premise sounds like it will be a lightweight comedic mystery--along the lines of Stuart M. Kaminsky's Toby Peters series or George Baxt's novels featuring real celebrities solving fictional murders--Gates's mystery is deadly serious. The Glamorous Dead will remind genre lovers of Dorothy B. Hughes's darker noir crime fiction, especially the fever dream atmosphere and unreliable narrator in her 1947 classic, In a Lonely Place.

When her beautiful roommate disappears on Halloween and is later found buried in a shallow grave, film extra Penny Harp becomes the LAPD's top murder suspect. It doesn't help matters that Penny (the narrator) has a lot of secrets and seems to alienate everyone around her, with the exception of the film's star. Why is Stanwyck suddenly best buddies with this background performer? Was Stanwyck's husband, dashing actor Robert Taylor, having an affair with the murdered girl?

The Glamorous Dead alternates between chapters of the two women trying to solve the murder with flashback chapters that begin to explain why neither woman is being completely honest with the other. This moody and retro noir mystery pulls readers along with carefully revealed twists, complex characters and unnerving apprehension. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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