From Publishers Weekly
Having appeared in 10 short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
, self-described film detective Valentino, who works as a film archivist at U.C.L.A., makes his novel-length debut in the engaging first of a new series from Shamus-winner Estleman. Valentino stumbles on the find of a lifetime when he inspects the Oracle, a decaying 1920s movie theater he's considering purchasing. An abandoned storage room contains reels of film that may be the only surviving prints of Erich von Stroheim's legendary epic, Greed
. The further discovery of a skeleton of unknown vintage in the old building complicates matters. Aided by academic colleagues, Valentino tries to eat his cake and have it, too, by cooperating with the police inquiry into what might be a case of foul play without revealing the existence of the film reels, which he fears might be damaged if seized as evidence. While the lighthearted tone is far removed from the gritty realism of the author's Amos Walker series (American Detective
, etc.), the versatile Estleman has crafted yet another intelligent page-turner. (May)
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*Starred Review* Genre veteran Estleman debuts a new and wonderfully entertaining series starring a UCLA film archivist. Departing dramatically from the classic hard-boiled style of his Amos Walker novels, Estleman has concocted a jaunty, thoroughly endearing screwball comedy-mystery in which the aptly named archivist Valentino teams with a venerable film historian and a hip, slightly loopy grad student to solve a murder, rehab a movie palace, and restore a long-lost, uncut print of the Erich von Stroheim classic Greed. It all starts when Valentino buys the crumbling theater and finds the abandoned reels of von Stroheim’s film in a walled-off storage room. Unfortunately, there is also a skeleton in the closet, the remains of a long-ago murder, and the police demand that Valentino surrender the film canisters within 72 hours or face prosecution. That leaves him three days to solve the crime or risk having the police mishandle and potentially ruin the fragile film. As Valentino and his buddies careen about Los Angeles, visiting a home for retired movie workers and researching the provenance of the movie palace, Estleman smoothly seeds the text with all manner of fascinating details relating to the history of silent films and the techniques of modern film restoration. There’s even time for a nifty romance between Valentino and an LAPD forensics investigator. Great cast, great subject, flawless delivery from a real pro. --Bill Ott