I love historical mysteries set in Los Angeles, and mysteries involving the entertainment industry are often even more fun. That means it was a no brainer when I saw the book cover for All That Glitters by Michael Murphy. The only two possible problems were that I had never heard of Mr. Murphy so I could only hope this novel lived up to my expectations, and that this is Book #2 in a series called Jake and Laura Mysteries. Luckily neither of those turned out to be a problem at all. If you like hard-boiled detective novels, novels set in Hollywood’s Golden Era, and/or couples like The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles then this novel is going to be a fun discovery!
It’s 1933 and the country is in the midst of the Great Depression. Jake Donovan, an ex-Pinkerton detective turned successful mystery author, and Laura Wilson, a renowned Broadway actress can’t get out of Manhattan fast enough. And the city’s police seem to feel the same way about them, with several turning up to ensure they actually get on their train bound for the West Coast. Although it’s hard for both of them to leave the city, it will actually be a relief to get out of town after their last bit of detective work. Luckily, Laura has gotten a huge break in her career. A big Hollywood studio has signed her to star in a major motion picture, a screwball comedy, and she’s really excited about what this could mean for her career. And where Laura goes, Jake goes.
“She spoke in a whisper I could barely hear over the top of the travelers. ’Don’t look now, but two broad shouldered lugs in dark suits are following us.’
‘Three,’ I dropped the bags and flexed my fingers. ‘The other is pretending to read a LIFE magazine next to the hot dog vendor. They’re government agents making sure we get on the train.’ I couldn’t wait to get out of New York City and leave behind our recent bouts of danger and intrigue.
‘You knew and didn’t say anything!’ Laura took off in a huff and left me with the luggage.”
Jake promised Laura he won’t take on any more detective jobs because they’re just too dangerous. Instead, he’s going to be head down working to get as much of his next Blackie Doyle detective novel written as quickly as possible so he can keep his editor happy. That should keep him out of trouble, or at least that’s the idea. He had hoped to make some headway on it during the train ride across country but something always seemed to get in the way, so he pledges to himself and his editor that he’ll knuckle down just as soon as they set foot in Los Angeles. And then there’s the ring burning a hole in his pocket. He’s planning to pop the big question to Laura as soon as he finds the right moment, and right now that is pretty much all he can think about.
“Laura kissed me. ’I’ve loved you since high school. You were so handsome even then. How’ve we managed to never get married?’
‘You turned me down four times, as I recall.’ I remembered each occasion, where we were, what she wore, and each searing stab of rejection.
‘Four!’ She raised her head. ‘Are you sure?’
Laura’s soft lips nibbled mine. ‘I was young, impetuous, and focused on my career. I won’t be so silly next time you pop the question.’”
When they reach Union Station, they’re met by other stars from the film and the studio heads’ sons. It’s a full-on press event. Laura is in her element; however, Jake is shuffled off to the side – something he guesses he’ll just have to get accustomed to. As the new kid in town, and because of the strict Hayes Code morality clause in her contract, Laura can’t make their relationship public unless the studio gives its blessing and they’re unsure when or if that will happen. They’ll work it out but right now they just have to be careful.
The two sons of Norman Carville, the studio head, couldn’t be more different. Todd Carville is calm, restrained and quite analytical, while the other, Eric Carville is brash, boisterous, and a bit over the top, with a reputation for being a womanizer. Of course Eric would be the screenwriter of Laura’s new film. And, of course, Jake takes an instant dislike to him. But Jake bites his tongue since he’s promised to not make waves which could be detrimental to Laura’s big break. His promise gets set aside; however, when the studio head asks him to do some rewrites on Eric’s screenplay. Unable to talk his way out of it, Jake sees no recourse but to accept. But as soon as Eric finds out he comes at Jake swinging, resulting in a brawl right in the middle of a lavish party being held to celebrate the upcoming film.
Given their fight, it probably makes sense that the police knock on Jake’s door when Eric is found dead the very next morning. Actually, though, an LAPD detective who used to date Jake pulled the short straw on the case and wants him to provide input at the scene. She’s suspicious this death might not be the suicide it’s been designed to appear to be. Jake confirms that it looks very suspicious and gives his reasons for thinking it’s a homicide. What he doesn’t realize is that both detectives on the case have private reasons to want to pin it on him. He just made himself the prime suspect in the case. WTH?!
Way to keep a low profile, Jake! Now Laura’s hopping mad, not just at Jake for getting involved but at the LAPD for daring to think he had anything to do with it. They have an iron-clad alibi, but no one seems to care about that. And that means there’s no way around the fact that Jake is going to have to go back out on the skinny branches of playing detective to prove his own innocence by finding the real killer. And that means his book has to be put on the back burner, which is going to make his editor livid. And who knows what will happen to Laura’s career, whether he can prove he’s innocent or goes up the river for a crime he didn’t commit. What a mess, and an increasingly dangerous mess at that!
Jake and Laura really do remind me a lot of Dashell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. They are fun, witty, and charming, and the novel is filled with the same kind of 1930’s Hollywood glamour that made the film of The Thin Man such a classic. They’re a devoted, loving couple trying to figure out the entertainment industry’s small-town-like unwritten rules while staying true to themselves and each other – no small feat in any decade. I liked them both very much and can’t wait to read more about them. And scenes with Louella Parsons, William Powell, and other Hollywood notables lend even more fun to the storyline. As for the brothers and their aged studio head father, well I’m not going there to avoid spoilers. I’ll just say that all three of them are a piece of work…
I enjoyed every minute of All That Glitters and I think Michael Murphy has hit on a context for his series that should serve it well. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve just downloaded Book #1, Yankee Club, to read because I want to find out how Jake and Laura ended up glad to get out of a city they loved so much. That must be one hell of a story!
Can’t wait to read it?
All That Glitters was published on January 6, 2015, so it’s available now from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). And it’s only $2.99!
Please note #1: This novel is available in e-book format only. Don’t let that dissuade you even if you don’t have an e-reader because you can download a free app that lets you read e-books on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.
Please note #2: I got this novel as a free selection through Amazon Prime so, if you’re a Prime member, you might also find it in a recent Amazon Prime email of book selections. I never know what to expect from those novels, but this one was a winner!
I’d love to get your comments on All That Glitters, Michael Murphy or his other work, and/or this review.
If you like this review, please contribute to our Reviewers’ Caffeine Fund in the left column. Just a cup a day, that’s all we ask.