There’s something about Hollywood. Perhaps it’s the magic of how films are made, or perhaps it’s the behind-the-scenes drama that often goes on. Whatever it is, stories set in Hollywood just seem to have a certain mystique about them for many people.
It’s a natural setting for a crime novel or series, too. Behind the glitter and celebrity hype, there’s a lot of personal drama, and sometimes, an awful lot of money. So it’s no wonder there’s plenty of crime fiction set in Hollywood and its counterpart, the world of Bollywood.
Three of Ellery Queen’s adventures take place in Hollywood. The one that (at least for my money) most explores the world of Hollywood filmdom is The Four of Hearts. In that novel, Queen is temporarily under contract with Magna Studios, which is planning a biopic of famous actors Blythe Stuart and John Royle. The two had an extremely stormy but passionate love affair that ended years ago. They’ve not spoken since then, and each married someone else and had a child. Now Magna wants the two to star in the film, and, to everyone’s surprise, they agree. Then, even more shocking, the two re-kindle their love affair and actually plan to marry. So the studio decides to milk the event for all of the publicity it’s worth, and stage a Hollywood-style public wedding, after which the couple will take off in a private plane for their honeymoon. Accompanying them will be their adult children. All goes as planned and the flight takes off. By the time it lands, though, both film stars are dead of what turns out to be poison. Now Queen looks into their pasts and into their dealings with the studio to find out who would have wanted to kill the victims.
Stuart Kaminsky’s Bullet For a Star introduces his sleuth, PI Toby Peters. The novel is set in 1940, during the ‘glory years’ of the major studios and their ‘stables of stars.’ When it’s discovered that Errol Flynn is being blackmailed, Warner Brothers producer Sid Adelman decides that the best thing to do is pay the blackmailer. Apparently, the blackmailer has a very compromising ‘photo of Flynn with a very young girl. Whether or not the ‘photo is real, there’s a lot riding on Flynn’s reputation, and Adelman doesn’t want to risk anything. So he hires Peters to make the exchange of money for the ‘photo. Peters agrees; but, as he’s making the exchange, someone attacks him, takes his gun, shoots the blackmailer, and escapes with the negative and print. Now, Peters has to get the ‘photo and negative back, as that was his original assignment. He also has to find out who the killer really was, since his gun was used for the crime. This novel is peopled with several of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Judy Garland. And readers get a look at the world of film making.
B.C. Stone has written a series of novels featuring Kay Francis. Set in the 1930s, the novels follow Francis as she lives the ‘Hollywood life.’ The third one, Peril in Paradise, especially, captures the world of Hollywood in those years. In that novel, Francis is busy filming a production for Paramount Pictures. Some strange things have been going on at the set, which is enough of a problem. But then, there’s a murder. The victim is Margaret O’Halloran, who was Kay Francis’ understudy. Then, Francis receives a threatening note. Now it looks as though she may be the real victim. And even if she’s not, she needs to finish the picture, not to mention keep out of harm’s way. So she works to find out who the murderer is. Oh, and William Powell features in this novel. And no, he’s not the killer.
Hollywood has changed a lot in the last decades. But it’s still got plenty of sparkle, glitter, and underlying steaminess and drama. And outsized egos. Just ask Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, who has to deal with exactly that sort of ego in Lullaby Town. Cole gets a call from casting director and former client Pat Kyle, asking for his help. Kyle is casting a film for superstar director Peter Alan Nelson, who wants Cole to look into a case for him. Cole is not fond of being summoned in this way, particularly not by a spoiled, self-involved director. But Kyle persuades him to at least listen to what Nelson has to say. It turns out that Nelson was married to Karen Shipley, and they had a son, Toby. After they divorced, Nelson didn’t have much to do with either his ex-wife or his son. Now, though, he’s decided that he wants to be a part of his son’s life. The only problem is, Karen and Toby have disappeared. Cole tries to explain that very often, people disappear because they want to disappear, so Nelson may not be welcome in Toby’s life. But Nelson insists, and a fee is a fee. So Cole agrees to see what he can do. It’s not long before he tracks Karen and Toby down to a small Connecticut town, where she works in a bank. And that’s when the trouble begins. It turns out that Karen’s been working for some very dangerous people who don’t want her to stop being their ‘bank connection.’ If he’s going to help his client, and save Karen and Toby, Cole is going to need help from his partner, Joe Pike…
Bollywood is also home to lots of glitter, hype, and underlying drama. And that shouldn’t be surprising. Just in 2015 alone, a total of 204 Hindi-language films were released. That means a lot of money, stars, and so on. And that’s the backdrop for Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. One night, leading director Nikhil Kapoor dies of electric shock. On that same night, his equally famous wife, Mllika Kapoor, dies of a drug overdose. At first it looks like a case of tragic accidents. But then it comes out that, two days before his death, Kapoor had attended a party where he told the other guests that he knew one of them was a killer – and would kill again. It’s soon clear that these deaths were murders, so Senior Inspector Hossein Sheriyar Khan is assigned to investigate. He finds that there’s more to this than just two people’s deaths; and, after several plot twists, finds out the truth behind what has happened.
See what I mean? Hollywood or Bollywood, there’s an atmosphere of opulence, hype, glitter, and lots of drama. Just perfect for a crime novel. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the cinema…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title a song by Richard A. Whiting, with lyrics from Johnny Mercer.