Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bit Player-Janet Dawson

Bit Player
Janet Dawson
Perseverance Press, Apr 4 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9781564744944

Oakland based private investigator Jeri Howard is in the Classic Hollywood Memorabilia shop Matinee to buy items from films her grandma was in as a bit player. The cashier overhears Jeri chatting with her friend Cassie about her relative and asks Jeri who her grandma was. She tells him her late relative was Jerusha Layne; he tells her the police questioned her grandmother about Robert Tarrant’s murder, implying Jerusa was romantically involved with the victim and was considered a serious suspect..

Jeri vows to dig into 1942 Hollywood when her grandma lived in a cottage with three female bit players. From letters her grandma saved, Jeri affirms Tarrant was killed with a fire set to conceal the murder. One of Jerusha’s roommates was Tarrant’s lover and was also killed. Chaz the owner of Matineee and his employee Henry Calhoun go to the home of Mrs Cook to buy the Joan Crawford collection. She declines their offers so they continue on to the home of Mike Strickland to attempt to purchase his Hitchcock collection. He also refuses. Not long afterward, both are dead. The murders in Hollywood decades ago and the two in the present somehow are linked, but for Jeri to find the connecting points mean traveling a labyrinth in which each corner is deadly.

The first Jeri Howard private investigator tale in years (see A Killing at the Track) is a totally terrific mystery that hooks the present to the “Golden Age of Hollywood. Jeri begins her inquiry by reading letters from various sources. She seeks interviews with those still alive as the original homicides are tundra cold after almost seven decades have passed; thus making the case that much more complex as the survivors have faulty memories (not even considering they would be octogenarians and nonagenarians) of what happened in 1942. Janet Dawson provides a wonderful whodunit as Jeri realistically works the investigation.

Harriet Klausner

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