Do you like Classic Movies? Do you like Hollywood Gossip? Do you like murder mysteries? Well then do yourself a favor and don’t read this book!
Seriously, don’t do it.
I grew up on classic movies. My grandmother and I spent countless hours snuggled together in her bed watching Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce play Holmes and Watson. My first celebrity crushes were on Cary Grant and Gene Kelly (Yes, they were dead, but that idea didn’t compute until much later.) When we weren’t watching old movies, she was reading me to sleep with Agatha Christie books. Old movies and mysteries, that was our thing.
When they released “The Thin Man” film collection on DVD, my grandmother and I sat down and watched through the series. I adored Nick and Nora Charles, played perfectly by William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their chemistry was adorable and their witty banter perfectly timed. I loved these films so much that for a while they were my go to comfort movies that I watched whenever I was sick or having a bad day.
Then I found out about this series by George Baxt. It’s called the “Jacob Singer” or “Celebrity Murder” series and has 13 books in it. They’re all murder mysteries built around big name stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
I had to read it. I HAD to. It was out of print, so I special ordered my copy through Borders. (Yes, Borders. Obviously it sat on my shelf for a while. I don’t read fast enough…) I pulled it out this summer, but I’d barely gotten into the first chapter when I noticed several things, the main one being that the writer…well…he…he sucks, okay? He sucks.
The plot was totally lacking. It was just a muddle of name dropping, meandering, useless information, and poorly constructed scenes. The dialogue was witty at parts, but his attributions were all haywire. He would begin a paragraph with “Said William” and throw in a half a sentence of dialogue before using most of the rest of the paragraph to describe the thoughts and actions of the other four people involved in the scene. Then he’d jump back in and finish whatever it was that William was saying, without any further dialogue attribution. By then I’d forgotten who was speaking, because he’d forced me into doing all the head hopping, so I’d have to revisit the opening of the paragraph.
During one scene, I was introduced to four new characters. The dialogue mess commenced and I couldn’t keep them or their stories straight anymore. I hit a point where I thought that one of the male characters was saying a female character had a crush on Jean Harlow. The biggest problem with this is the book takes place in the 1930’s and to my knowledge Hollywood stars didn’t advertise homosexuality back then. I tried to back up and see if I’d read it right, got frustrated, and decided to continue reading with the understanding that, regardless of the author’s original intent, none of the characters had identifiable gender, and they were all bisexual. It was just easier that way.
Besides that, the murder itself was dragged out for eternity. At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty, I was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a body. About half way through the book it finally happened, and you only really got two suspects, one of which I felt they’d already exonerated in the first half of the story.
And as for the characters of Powell and Loy, well they were basically Nick and Nora Charles. The same mannerisms, same playful flirty banter, the same propensity to drink three martini’s before noon. This was utterly unbelievable to me, and an insult to the acting abilities of Powell and Loy. Honestly Baxt, was this meant to be Powell and Loy or did you just find it less cumbersome to use them instead of applying to Dashiell Hammett for rights to publish your Thin Man fan-fiction?
I feel like if anyone should have been a candidate to love this book, it would be me. The nostalgia effect alone should have carried me, but wow. Just wow.
Never again, George Baxt. Never again.