- Paperback: 262 pages
- Publisher: Asahina & Wallace (March 20, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1940412080
- ISBN-13: 978-1940412085
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,676,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Studio Kill Paperback – March 20, 2014
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I would have given it 5 stars but formatting was hinky on my Kindle. For some reason it showed up in two separate fonts, and the pagination made the transitions from one scene to another a bit clunky. It's a minor annoyance though. The book was great.
The detective in "The Studio Kill" isn't exactly a PI; he's John McClellan, the house detective for the fictional Continental Pictures in 1947 (the book begins the day after Bugsy Siegel was killed). In reality, McClellan is more of a studio fixer than a detective, cleaning up the messes that the different actors, directors, and writers have gotten themselves into while helping the studio maintain the façade of a clean image. That task proves exceptionally difficult when the drug addict wife of a well-known director dies under mysterious circumstances, a death that eventually leads to several others and some personal involvement for McClellan in the case, since his nephew becomes the prime suspect in the last group of killings. Not only that, but a Red-hunting Congressman looking to make headlines is launching a probe of the Communist influence in Hollywood, and McClellan hass to make sure the Congressman leaves Continental alone.
Author Fleming is a veteran entertainment writer for various newspapers and magazines, so he knows the subject matter, and, by telling the story largely from McClellan’s point of view, the author is able to breezily impart some often fascinating history lessons to readers. As McClellan makes the rounds, greasing palms and making threats when needed, he travels to a wide cross-section of Hollywood’s in places of the day, and the author freely drops names of legendary hangouts like Chasen’s and the Trocadero. The big names also pop up frequently as well: Gable, Bogart, and the rest. In addition, the author also tells parts of the story from the points of view of two other characters, a screenwriter who eventually gets friendly with McClellan, and a gossip columnist who’s not so friendly. There’s an art to dropping names in a book like this, and Fleming has mastered it. His descriptions don’t just sound like he’s just dumping the fruits of his research into the book. Instead, readers feel like they’re right in these places, seeing these celebrities.
While Fleming captures the vibe of 1940’s Hollywood quite well, including giving readers a not-so-flattering view of how nearly anyone’s silence could be bought fairly easily and the ins and outs of cutthroat studio politics, he’s also telling a pretty decent story. As a mystery, “The Studio Kill” isn’t the world’s greatest. Fleming waits until late in the book for most of the killings to take place, and the identity of the killer isn’t too tough to figure out. But as a character study, the book is more interesting, with McClellan a most unusual and interesting sort of protagonist, a man who maintains his own moral code (he refuses to take the readily available under-the-table graft) while being very willing to hand out the studio’s money to those with fewer scruples.
Certainly, as far as mystery stories go, readers can find more complex and clever ones than “The Studio Kill.” But there aren’t many period pieces that give readers the feel for the era and repeatedly make them feel part of the scene. Fleming’s writing is quite descriptive, and he knows how to turn a phrase, such as, when referring to would-be extras standing in line at the studio: “They were the misfits, the ones who couldn’t function in normal society, or thought they were too good for that. They were the losers, the lame and the halt, the gin-jockeys, the hopheads and the hypes, the mashers and the mama’s boys—all the drifters and dreamers who didn’t belong anywhere else.” It’s a bygone era, for better and worse, which Charles Fleming effortlessly recalls and puts the readers on the front row to watch it unfold. Thumbs up for “The Studio Kill.”
Our hero, McClellan, is the studio fixer, which puts him right in the middle of the scandals, the lowlife, the decadence and all of the lurid action that we associate with fictional, noir Hollywood. He's not realistic, but who associates Hollywood with reality? Everything is amped up, sexier, boozier and more intense than real life could be, but that's part of the fun.
The period details are keen and plentiful. All of the clubs, restaurants and hangouts are here. Real and thinly disguised celebrities wander in and out of the action. Heck, when McClellan drives somewhere he takes the right roads and ends up in the right places. This is like a breezy travelogue of old Hollywood.
That said, this isn't an earnest or exploitative "Hollywood Babylon" kind of book. It's more deadpan and matter of fact, (spiced with the traditional snappy patter), than that. All of the celebrity misbehavior only works if your narrator has a been-there-done-that kind of weariness about him. If you get too serious then Hollywood just sort of evaporates, but if you keep it breezy the whole fantasy stays intact.
So, if you want to drop by and see what's happening at Chasen's, the Brown Derby, Romanoff's, the Cocoanut Grove or Mocambo, and you don't have a time machine, this is the next best thing. An entertaining and enjoyable read.
Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.