Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A mystery about new and old Hollywood

Angel of the Abyss

By Ed Kurtz


Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub. Date: December 2, 2014

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

At the start of this atmospheric mystery Angel of the Abyss echoes Indiana Jones more than Sam Spade. Film archivist and wannabe movie maker Graham Woodward gets a call about a long lost film. It is titled Angel of the Abyss and was the only film starring Grace Baron, an actress that disappeared after the film was made. A rich woman in Hollywood wants him to look at the film and pays for him to come to California. But when he arrives he finds the woman dead. Pretty soon, he is being shot at too and his ex-wife who lives in California is also missing.

So we enter at the prospect of finding "the holy grail" of silent films and soon blend into a parade of bad guys and suspects as our hero attempts to find out why anyone wants him dead and why death and violence follows the film. We also get a slacker sidekick who gets some of the the first person narration along with Graham. It is a fun ride to the end. As if that is not enough, there is an alternating third person narrative in the form of the making of the film in 1926 through the eyes of the unfortunate starlet Grace Baron. It's that switching back to past and present that makes this such a good novel. Aside from worrying about our hero, we get a nice glimpse of the victim and a tasty look at Hollywood in the silent film era. It is a lot to handle in a relatively short novel but author Ed Kurtz handles it like a pro. While the novel has some Raymond Chandleresque echoes, mainly due to the LA setting, the main protagonist is not a detective but just a poor working guy who gets into a mess and finds he has the cajones to fight it. I like that. The only thing that keeps this from going out of the ball park is that it feels a bit formula at first. It doesn't feel like it is going anywhere new and the mystery is a bit easy to figure out. Perhaps it was a little too short for its own good. But it is still a really good read by a writer that has what it takes to go the distance. If you like mysteries, especially those that delves into Hollywood and the alternately glossy and gritty shades of its past, then you will like this novel. Three and a half stars.

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