I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy Hambly’s outstanding murder mystery series set in New Orleans following the fortunes of freed slave, Benjamin January – see my review of Death and Hard Cider. Indeed, I enjoyed this one so much, I’ve been listening to the audiobook editions of the first four books in the series to date. So when I saw she was the author of this offering, I immediately snapped it up. How could I resist, given that the 1920s is a favourite era?
BLURB: May, 1924. It’s been seven months since young British widow Emma Blackstone arrived in Hollywood to serve as companion to Kitty Flint: her beautiful, silent-movie star sister-in-law. Kitty is generous, kind-hearted . . . and a truly terrible actress. Not that Emma minds; she’s too busy making her academic parents turn in their graves with her new job writing painfully historically inaccurate scenarios for Foremost Studios, in between wrangling their leading lady out of the arms of her army of amorous suitors.
So when one of Kitty’s old flames, renowned film director Ernst Zapolya, calls Emma and tells her it’s imperative he meet with Kitty that morning, she’s not surprised. Until, that is, he adds that lives depend on it. Ernest sounds frightened. But what can have scared him so badly – and what on earth does cheerful, flighty Kitty have to do with it? Only Ernest can provide the answers, and Kitty and Emma travel to the set of his extravagant new movie to find them. But the shocking discovery they make there only raises further questions . . . including: will they stay alive long enough to solve the murderous puzzle?
REVIEW: What immediately struck me with this book is how completely Hambly catches the giddy, hedonistic whirl of parties, assignations and manoeuvring going on. There are actors desperate for better parts… producers and directors desperate to make their current film stand out from the increasing competition… those desperate to keep their film star reputations intact… And in the middle of all this is war widow Emma Blackstone, companion and assistant to her beautiful sister-in-law, Kitty Flint, who parties as hard as the best of them – regularly turning up at the set having not been home the previous night and relying on Emma to get her ready for the day’s filming.
I got a ringside seat at the gossip, the constant affairs and some of the problems with the filming – the hilarious rewrites that Emma is asked to make are a running joke throughout the book. I found the world beguiling and wonderfully glamorous – but beneath the glamour lies a darker tone. Having to sleep with the director and/or producer on whichever film she’s on is part of the job, as far as Kitty is concerned – even as a major star. Filming is intensive with actors taking all sorts of stimulants to keep going – the most common being bootleg liquor, but there are also drug dealers on set. And action scenes are often horribly dangerous, with horses and extras regularly being injured and sometimes killed, with virtually no consequences, as the film industry at this time isn’t held to account.
So when there is a murder during the filming of a major explosion – the studio is determined to pin the crime on the first person who discovers the body. However, Kitty and Emma aren’t so sure. To be honest – the crime and whodunit wasn’t a major consideration for me, as I was dazzled by the vividness of the world Hambly depicts. It rings true, too. Having read David Niven’s wonderful autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, I got a similar sense of a hectic lifestyle where people were determined to have a good time, no matter what.
That said, the murder mystery does steadily become more important, particularly after Kitty and Emma are targeted. I found the denouement to be poignant and all too believable. Once more, Hambly delivers a gripping historical drama featuring a likeable protagonist. Highly recommended for fans of 1920s murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of One Extra Corpse from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.