On looking up the details of this book on Goodreads, I learnt that Mary Miley won the Mystery Writers of America for First Crime Novel Award in 2012 for The Impersonator, which I think is the first book in this series. I can see why…
Can 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.
While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.
As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.
However what makes this stand out for me is her clear depiction of the darker side of the era – the edgy lawlessness as crime gangs, emboldened and funded by the massive sales of moonshine, battle amongst each other for territory and the casual, everyday racism that condemns anyone of colour to a second-rate existence. That, coupled with the sexism that also downgrades women’s prospects makes me very glad that I’m alive now, rather than back then. One quibble – when she spends a couple of nights with her lover, there is no mention of any contraception. I’m sure someone as worldly wise as Jessie would have insisted on her partner using a condom to prevent pregnancy in an era when a baby out of wedlock brought shame and disgrace to women, but there is no mention of it.
That doesn’t prevent me thoroughly enjoying this engrossing and well written mystery, which twists off into all sorts of directions and I certainly didn’t see exactly who the perpetrator was until Miley wanted me to. All in all, while I was in bed with a heavy cold, this was the perfect book to get lost in. Highly recommended.
While I obtained the arc of Renting Silence from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.