In the character of Diana Poole, Melodie Johnson Howe has created a sharp instrument that penetrates the razzle dazzle facade of the New Hollywood to expose the not-so-admirable innards of Tinsel Town, especially bringing to light the desperation of all those creative (and some dismally uncreative) people in the community to succeed at all costs.
Diana Poole is not by any means a sleuth in the traditional sense. She does not seek out the criminal situations in which she constantly becomes embroiled. Just by knowing somebody or trying to earn a living as an actress is sometimes enough to get her into a bind. Watching her come upon the truth — for she is fearfully honest — constitutes the bulk of each of these stories.
In all good mysteries, the truth does come out eventually. For Diana, however, finding the truth seldom brings comfort — and never joy.
Fred Allen famously said, “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.” Be that as it may, the people Diana encounters have sincerity aplenty, being sincere enough about their personal ambitions to stop at nothing, not even murder.
Regular readers of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (EQMM) might be familiar with Diana Poole’s adventures, but it’s good to have them collected in one place.
Parental warning: This book contains strong language and adult situations.
Introduction by Melodie Johnson Howe.
(1) “Dirty Blonde” (SISTERS IN CRIME 4, 1991)
I knew one thing. Gordon would never kill himself. He wasn’t that thoughtful.
Long ago Diana quit her Hollywood career for the married life. Now, twenty years later, her husband has died, leaving Diana in a financial lurch and forcing her to return to the only career she knows: acting. Forty-something actresses, however, aren’t in great demand in Tinsel Town, and she has to settle for anything that comes along, such as the small part in a new production being offered by an old acquaintance, a womanizing producer who has lusted after her for years. Further complicating matters are the producer’s jealous wife and his pliant mistress. Almost predictably, the peccant husband gets himself murdered, and Diana winds up on the short list of prime suspects.
(2) “Another Tented Evening” (EQMM, March 1996)
“He said it was an uneasy laughter. That if I sang I would remind my guests of how untalented they really are. And how much money they earn for being so untalented. I grabbed the candelabra, turned, and swung it at his head.”
Somewhere inside everyone there must be a snapping point, a place where reason and tolerance are abandoned and replaced with cold fury. At an elaborate and expensive Hollywood party celebrating a producer’s wife’s birthday, Diana will be a reluctant witness to such a moment.
(3) “Killing the Sixties” (EQMM, June 1999)
“Someone wants me dead,” he said flatly, reaching into his pocket for a crumbled piece of paper.
He handed it to me. Large letters, cut from a glossy magazine, were glued to the paper forming the sentence: YOU TOOK MY LIFE.”
Back in her teen years, the sixties, Diana had served as the inspiration for a hit song. Now nearly three decades later, the man credited with that tune, a former boyfriend, wants back into Diana’s life. As a survivor of a liver transplant, he thinks he can recapture the lost glory of the past, but only with Diana at his side. What he fails to remember, however, is that he stole something all those years ago, a theft that will pose a threat potentially fatal to both his self-conceit and his life.
(4) “Facing Up” (EQMM, July 2004)
“I can’t see my reflection in her face.”
An aging film actress asks Diana for help. She is feeling alienated from her daughter and blames her son-in-law, a plastic surgeon, for it — and she also thinks he may be intending to kill her (the mother). When the elderly actress is found dead, apparently of an accidental fall downstairs, Diana finds herself mixed up in a situation replete with enough simmering passions, conflicting desires, and emotional entanglements to fill an entire season of your average soap opera.
(5) “Tiffany Blue” (EQMM, March 2002)
She wore a quilted blue bathrobe and stared at the gun in her hand as if she’d picked up the wrong evening bag.
“He lost his touch,” she said.
Finding a pair of expensive Tiffany earrings in a snow bank wouldn’t necessarily portend anything ominous; but when one of Diana’s co-stars discovers the lost sparklers, she unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that will culminate in murder.
(6) “The Talking Dead” (EQMM, June 2003)
“If TV saps your soul, what does murder do to it?”
“TV is worse. Trust me.”
Sometimes creative people can feel neglected despite their brilliance, but especially so in Hollywood. Diana’s friend and neighbor, a television writer, is having an affair with the married star of her show, and everyone knows it, even the man’s wife. But which one of these people will feel offended enough to commit murder?
(7) “The Good Daughter” (EQMM, August 2007)
“You’re a detective. Doesn’t it bother you that she could get away with this?”
“People do get away with murder, Diana.”
To keep their positions of power and influence some individuals will stop at nothing. A ruthless talent agent of Diana’s acquaintance and her defiant daughter have a bitter quarrel, but it is a young actor who winds up dead on the carpet. Diana, sympathizing with the daughter, tries but fails to be of help to her — or to prevent another killing.
(8) “What’s It Worth?” (EQMM, December 2008)
“Why are you holding that Oscar by its head?”
“I’m solving a murder. And you’re in the way.”
When Diana lands a part in a new movie after another actress has been fired by the temperamental director, she dares hope her struggling career has taken a turn for the better — but when that discharged actress is murdered, Diana suddenly finds herself a suspect. Figuring there’s one fairly sure way of clearing it all up, Diana sets a trap for the killer, not anticipating there could be more than one …. [My favorite story in the collection.]
(9) “A Hollywood Ending” (EQMM, July 2009)
She had the sweet oval face of the girl-next-door. But with the gun and the bad bleach job she looked like a young woman in a Norman Rockwell illustration gone horribly wrong.
Diana encounters her past in the form of a young woman with whom she once worked years ago. Bizarrely, this person insists that she is Diana’s daughter, even brandishing a gun to prove it. After this harrowing experience, Diana will have good reason to hope she hasn’t had a frightening glimpse of her own future.
Melodie Johnson Howe website.
A video discussion of Shooting Hollywood.
Shooting Hollywood on sale at Amazon.com.