Babes in Tinseltown
For once, the cover conveys it perfectly. Do the pastels make you think light and frothy? You’d be right, but skew it over to superficial, and it would be bang on. As much as I wanted to like Ms. South’s 1930s-set mystery, I found it clichéd, indecisive, and one-dimensional – which, I might add, was not what I was expecting.
The plot can be summed up in one sentence: Naïve Southern wannabe actress bumbles around solving a mystery. Her name is Frankie Foster. She’s young and naïve – no, make that really young and naïve, and not in an amusing ditzy way. Just plain ditzy.
Anyway, she reeeeally wants to make it in Hollywood. I’m not sure why, because I know almost nothing about her except that she wants to be an actress extra bad. Oh, and that she’s naïve.
Frankie’s also incredibly lucky. Not for her the days of failed auditions and avoiding the casting couch, and nights of waiting tables while cringing in a roach-infested apartment – no, she gets a nice young engineer who steers her clear of trouble, a safe women’s boarding house, a nice young officer to shepherd her around, and a tiny role as an extra falling in her lap the very first day she walks into the studio.
Being from the family of characters who never get unlucky even though they’re indefatigably stupid, she also decides that the film’s producer didn’t die of a heart attack – he was murdered. So she questions the police officer, the producer’s widow, and all sorts of random people who feed this naïve Southern ingénue all the answers without questioning why this chick wants to know. Whatever.
Also in the eye-rolling department is the old pencil-rubbing method, which makes an appearance, as do the evil abortionist and the villain who’s so left-field I spotted him/her immediately. No cliché is left unmined.
The main problem with this book, besides featuring a completely implausible mystery and heroine, is it can’t decide what tone to take. Is it a screwball comedy? Well, I think there are moments it was supposed to be, but it doesn’t quite work. Is it a screwball mystery? Maybe, but it fails in that regard too, especially as a mystery. Is 1936 Hollywood a den of evil or a garden of cinematic magic? How about neither, considering most descriptions read like encyclopaedia entries.
I should add that none of this is any worse than dozens of other mysteries and characters I’ve read. There are no errors that I can spot, grammatical or factual, and I read it in, maybe, three hours. This last is a double-edged sword, however – I had no problem putting it down, and at less than 250 pages, with extra-wide spacing and large font, Ms. South could have easily inserted 30 pages of quality character development, and the book would be all the better for it. But as it is, all I can tell you is to save your money.