Hooray For Hollywood*

Hollywood SetsThere’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.


Filed under B.C. Stone, Ellery Queen, Robert Crais, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Stuart Kaminsky

26 responses to “Hooray For Hollywood*

  1. I have a board on Pinterest with the exact same name, Hooray for Hollywood! My primary interest in in the old, “glory days” of Hollywood, especially mystery/noir/thriller type movies and actors. I do make room for some of the newer actors who I believe would fit in perfectly with the Hollywood of old. One name in particular comes to mind: Scarlett Johansson. In my opinion her beauty transcends the years. I can imagine her in numerous roles where she would have done an admirable job. There are others, but SJ is tops.

    • I can see your point, Michael, about Scarlett Johansson. She has that ‘old style’ if you will ‘Hollywood look.’ And she can carry off that sort of role very well, I think. Those Hollywood noir films (I’m thinking, for example, of Otto Preminger’s Laura) had so much atmosphere and style that I can see why you’re particularly fond of them. Some unforgettable characters and lines, too.

  2. I was very fond of the Kaminsky books and really like the sound of the Kay Francis series Margot, I had no idea about those. I am very partial to the George Baxt series of celebrity-sleuth mysteries and thought that the George Sanders CRIME ON MY HANDS, ghosted by Craig Rice, was especially good.

    • Oh, thanks for those suggestions, Sergio. I’ve not read the Sanders/Rice, ‘though I know of it. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. And I agree about the Kaminsky series – quite well done. I recommend the Stone novels, too. There’s a nice sense of ’30s Hollywood, and I think Stone does a very effective job with the dialogue and characters.

  3. A.M. Pietroschek

    “When a minor virtual intrusion disturbs the routine of Professor Margot Crymewise at Tilton university she is not very worried. Typical for a minority of students to attempt cheating their way through life after all.

    But when challenging messages to her are found in a series of corpse discoveries, ill-labeled Hollyblood (Boulevard) Murders, she hesitates not a second to leave her favorite residence to support the police investigation straight at the source… ”

    Just my amateurish attempt. Mostly because S.W. in ‘Copykill’ focused much on acting her disorder, but kept it quite low on solid crime fiction knowledge for the audience.

    • I’d forgotten about that film, André. It is interesting how directors do have to consider the audience when they’re determining how to tell a story and where the focus should be.

      • A.M. Pietroschek

        During my authoring courses I learned that two kinds of stories can succeed (in different ways): The stories we really want to write, and the story we ‘craft-well’ for sale, thereby fulfilling certain standards, or outmatching them!

        Sorry that I failed to write something you enjoy. Please lets forgive & forget…

        Though adding a Nazi time-machine and perhaps a brain-washed husband WOULD all still work, and no need for Cthulhu either… 😉

        • It’s true, André, that there are books people write because they really want to write them, and books that are commercially successful. And every once in a great while, the two are the same thing, and some author becomes a J.K. Rowling.

        • A.M. Pietroschek


  4. Hollywood (or Bollywood) glamour does add a certain something to a story, doesn’t it? And of course when a story involves actors they tend to be quite convincing when they’re telling little lies. I can only think of one book I’ve read set partly in Hollywood – ‘One for Our Baby’ by John Sandrolini. It’s more of a thriller than a mystery. The protagonist, Joe, is asked by Frank Sinatra to bring Frank’s latest girlfriend to Hollywood, but when she turns up, it turns out she used to be Joe’s girlfriend – the love of his life. And before he gets the chance to tell Frank, the girl disappears. Now Frank wants Joe to find her… It’s done very well, especially Frank, who’s very believable, and he mixes in all the stuff about Frank’s connections with mafioso and politicians. A bit of a shoot-’em-up in the end, but a good fun romp!

    • Oh, it sounds like fun, FictionFan! And I can just imagine the dialogue! I confess that’s one I haven’t read, but it’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind with this post. I may have to look that one up (not that my TBR needs any additions, mind!). You’ve got a point, too, about actors. They’re paid to be someone else, so it makes sense that they’d be good at lying, or at least at not being entirely forthright. And with all of the money and glitter and so on, some of them are quite spoilt, which of course, adds its own layer to a novel. And yes, that glitter does add a certain something. It’s not surprising that novels set there are appealing.

  5. I agree, Hollywood in fiction is always fun. Thanks for all the suggestions. The only one I have read is Kaminsky’s Bullet For a Star, and I have more in that series to read. I have Lullaby by Crais and this is a good reminder to read that one soon.

  6. Margot: While Harry Bosch lives in L.A. he has little connection with Hollywood. Mickey Haller, on the other hand, defends a Hollywood mogul on a murder charge when a friend dies and he inherits the files.

    • That’s quite true, Bill. I was actually thinking of Bosch and Haller when I was writing this post. In the end, I didn’t include them, so I’m very glad you did.

  7. My mother loved the Kaminsky books because her generation was especially drawn to Hollywood glamor I think. Megan’s first two books took place there and I miss that setting.

    • It is a great setting isn’t it, Patti? And thanks for reminding us of both Die a Little and The Song is You. Both have such a great sense of the atmosphere of Hollywood; Megan did a terrific job on that score.

  8. I love books that take place in Hollywood. I think it is the familiarity I feel having been so exposed over the years. We as a public ‘live’ there so often. Hollywood is a place I visited once and have no need to do so again. It certainly has earned all the hype!

    • You know, I hadn’t thought about it, Lesley, but even people who’ve never visited Hollywood feel a sense of familiarity, simply because of how often it’s portrayed in film and book. And we certainly see it on the celebrity gossip websites, etc.. As you say, it sure gets a lot of hype!

  9. Hi Margot. Thanks for the Hollywood post, and especially for the mention of Peril in Paradise. Also a thanks for the inclusion of Kaminsky’s Bullet for a Star, one of the most effective of the Hollywood mystery novels. It seems that, be the genre mystery or otherwise, the whole Hollywood gestalt is a natural for the satirical or lightly comic treatment of the type Kaminsky does so well. Two of my favorite examples include Chandler’s The Little Sister and Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust.

    • It’s a pleasure to mention your work, Bryan. And I agree that Bullet For a Star does to a highly effective job of evoking the Hollywood atmosphere and setting. As I think about your comment about satire, I can see why such an approach would be successful. It’s an effective counterpoint to the stereotype of the star who takes her/himself too seriously. Novels such Kaminsky’s puncture that, and help us to see the stars as all-too-flawed humans. And thanks for mentioning both the Chandler and the West. I’m not familiar with the West, so time I looked into it, methinks.

  10. My all-time favorite author, Larry Brooks, has a thriller based in Hollywood. I want to say it’s The Seventh Thunder but because I’ve read every book he’s ever written, I could be confusing one title with another. Truly, they are all superb. Highly recommend.

  11. I used to enjoy Stan Cutler’s books about a Hollywood PI and his writer sidekick, very funny but good plots too – they seem sadly forgotten now.
    And of course Christie’s The Mirror Cracked has a Hollywood star as a major character.

    • You know, Moira, I thought of The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side when I was preparing this post. In the end I didn’t include it, so I’m really glad that you did. And now you’ve given me a welcome nudge to dive into Cutler’s work – thanks!

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