Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Review: "The Pictures" by Guy Bolton

Hollywood, 1939. MGM is putting the finishing touches on a movie it has high hopes for, The Wizard of Oz, although studio head Louis Mayer isn't sure about that "Over the Rainbow" number.

LAPD detective Jonathan Craine has just returned to his job after the unexpected death of his actress wife, and he's still a bit of a mess. Not only are his feelings of grief, guilt, and anger all mixed up and residing a little too close to the surface for comfort, but he doesn't know how to handle his young son, Michael, who has gone mute in his own grief.

Craine has been unofficially employed by the LAPD as a "fixer" for the Hollywood studios. He steps in when a star has gotten themselves into a bit of trouble and makes sure the press doesn't catch wind of it, and ensures investigations are closed quickly before anyone can ask any questions. It's a good job, although one not entirely on the up-and-up, and it was a bone of contention between him and his late wife.

He agreed to come back to work if he didn't have to do that job anymore, but he gets pressed into service one more time. When an MGM producer is found dead of an apparent suicide, Craine is asked to smooth out any questions the investigation might uncover, as the producer was married to Gale Goodwin, one of the studio's up-and-coming stars. As always, Craine is the loyal soldier, even if he is starting to realize that things aren't just adding up in this case. But if getting the case to put to bed is all that needs to happen before he can get out from under the studios' thumb, he's happy to do as he's told.

When a dogged young detective keeps peppering Craine with questions and inconsistencies in the case, he decides to do a little bit of investigating just to pacify him. But when Craine realizes the producer's death might be connected with a brutal murder the night prior, and then he gets caught in a gunfight when following what appears to be an innocent lead, he has a real dilemma on his hands. Should he do what he always has done, and put the needs and wishes of the studio ahead of the need for justice, or is it time for him to pursue what is right, not what is desired? And if he chooses the latter path, is he prepared to face whatever consequences might lie ahead?

Guy Bolton's The Pictures is a fascinating look at old Hollywood, the time when the studio heads controlled everything in LA, even the police. While the mystery component of the plot might not be entirely surprising, Bolton's storytelling and character development really shines through. Craine is definitely a flawed character, but he's a man with so much on his shoulders, and he just can't seem to do the right thing with everyone. His story was very compelling, and I would have loved even more background on him, so it would be great if Bolton considers another book featuring him.

The other thing I loved about the book was how effectively Bolton conveyed the mood and setting of Hollywood in 1939. While I didn't read with an eagle eye to make sure every detail was entirely accurate (he obviously took some liberties while keeping some elements of real events), I could just picture the book in my head so well. I could see Mayer raging, the scenes in nightclubs and studio parties. That worked so well.

NetGalley and ONEWorld Publications provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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