A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A well-written, complex murder mystery that left me guessing and scrambling to find more by this new-to-me author.
After a glamorous studio party, “Psychic to the Stars” Sylvie Black is found murdered in her fortune telling booth, a blood soaked tarot reading spread out before her. Shortly afterwards, the high-profile director who was about to produce Ms. Black’s ‘tell-all’ Hollywood screenplay, is found murdered as well. Closeted Homicide detective, Bill Turner, and his partner, Kate Crandall, find themselves sorting through a cast of likely suspects, who all seem to have secrets worth killing for. They soon run up against the studio rumor mill, and Jeremy Reilly, a young studio AD determined to protect their prime suspect.
Death by Misfortune is the first book by this author that I’ve read and I have to say I am hooked. Where the hell have I been that I didn’t know what a talent she is? Well-written and -plotted with a quick pace, I was engrossed, and if all of her books are like this, I’ll be reading her backlist — minus the paranormals and creature-features, that is, ‘cause you all know that ain’t my thang 🙂 — as soon as I get my little hands on them. DbM is book two in her Bill Turner Case Book series, book one being Amor En Retrogrado (reviewed by Jenre here), and features, among a very large and colorful cast, closeted LAPD homicide detective, Bill Turner, and his partner, Kate Crandall. I did not know this was a part of a series when I took it on for review (the blurb on the MLR site doesn’t mention it’s part of a series), and I while can say with certainty that you needn’t read AER to enjoy this one, there were a few times where I found myself feeling like I was missing a little something when it came to Bill’s relationships with partner Kate and boyfriend Christopher. I do intend to go back and pick up AER to catch what I missed.
Set in the seemingly insane world of the Hollywood film industry, the story opens the morning after a large cast and crew party, at which a celebrity psychic was providing tarot card readings and fortunes. Everyone is scrambling to get to work as the filming must move forward if it is to come anywhere close to making budget. In another part of town, LAPD homicide detective Lieutenant Bill Turner and his partner Kate are called to the scene of a gruesome murder of said psychic, where they also find she had written a Hollywood tell-all book that could prove to be part of the motive. The next day, the famous director in charge of the film disappears, only to turn up murdered as well. When they try to investigate, they run up against obstacles from all angles, including experienced actors, nosy media, lies and rumors. In the middle of this is Jeremy, the assistant to the assistant director Beckett, who wants nothing more than to protect the fragile man who has been his mentor and new lover.
This book pretty much grabs you from the beginning as we are transported with Jeremy to the set of a film being made. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the “dirty world of filmmaking,” but I understand that the author knows her stuff and it all seemed disappointingly real. I mean that if all that goes on in the book really happens, well, it’s just sad. Long, long hours, screaming people, giant egos, running on caffeine and other stimulating substances, everyone sleeping with everyone else, backstabbing and gossiping (X said that Y said that Z heard A say that B slept with C — oy!) seem to be how the life is lived “dahn sahth” in LA, as we would say in Pittsburgh, and I’m really glad I am not in the industry.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of: cops and media and spouses and lawyers and agents and a bazillion movie people. Especially in the beginning you really need to pay attention because it’s very easy to get confused. Note that although the recurring characters are Bill, Kate and Christopher, they actually play a lesser role than I would have expected now that I know this is a series.
Riley sure can pen the flawed characters, and I think that’s one of the strengths of the story. So many of the cast have issues — and not small ones, at that — that I created a spreadsheet in my head so I could remember which problems went with which characters. 🙂 Alcoholism, drug addiction, control freaks, loose sexual morals, anger management issues, conscious lying, unrequited lust, jealousy, coveting thy co-worker’s everything, closet [fill in the blank], workaholics and bad taste all vying for page time. Additionally, the majority of the relationships — working and romantic — seemed incredibly dysfunctional. I couldn’t help but be both fascinated and saddened about human behavior while reading this story: cynicism is the overall feeling, lying perfectly acceptable, backstabbing commonplace, gossip expected.
The character with probably the most on-page time and narration is Jeremy, Becket’s assistant who wants to be so much more and who does not-so-great and misguided things in an effort to protect the other man. A self-described control freak who was orphaned at eighteen when his alcoholic father died, he is smart, clever and very capable in his job for his age. I tried not to like him, but I couldn’t help but doing exactly that as the story progressed. Part of what he does is because of his unhappy past, part in wanting to impress Becket, part in wanting to get into the man’s pants, part in loyalty to Becket and the studio, and part just being a caring person for Becket. I found myself feeling sorry for him and, yes, ultimately liking him and rooting for him and Becket.
I had trouble remembering that Becket was only thirty-five as he seemed at least a decade older through much of the story the way be behaved and came across. One of the actors on the movie called him “tragic and romantic,” and I’d have to agree. I’d also add fragile, lost and in need of psychiatric help.
I found Bill to be an enigma. After reading this book, I feel I know very little about him other than he is an alcoholic, closeted, dates a teacher named Christopher who he doesn’t treat very well, smokes like a chimney, has a nearly one-hundred-percent solve rate (except one case that he often thinks about) and a strong admiration for his partner, Kate. My problem is that while we do learn these things, we don’t know much about what is running through his head; we often see his actions, but we don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if there’s more backstory available in AER, but reading Jen’s review makes it sound like there isn’t. Maybe we’ll learn more as the series goes on. Jen said that his and Christopher’s relationship in that book was painful to watch and here it is the same. I am not sure what the understanding and kind Christopher sees in the emotionally closed-off and at-times difficult Bill, but there are some strides made in the right direction in this book. I felt some hope for them at the end.
Regarding the mystery element, there are a whole slew of suspects and red herrings abound, and the complexity left me guessing until just before the reveal. I suspected several people, and as they were proven innocent — or murdered! — I was like “Crap, I was sure it was him/her!”
My single niggle — and it’s not enough for me to drop the rating — is that the majority of the time we get Bill and Jeremy’s POVs, but every so often we are given access into the minds of a few other characters, often just thrown in with no delineation between it and the POV of the other character. Or, the first few paras of a section would be Jeremy’s POV, then unexpectedly switch over to Bill’s. This occasional headhopping was jarring and drew me out of the story of a moment.
A wonderful offering from a new-to-me author that has me now going out to collect other of her works. Highly recommended to mystery readers.