Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review: Blues In The Dark by Raymond Benson

Blues in the DarkSynposis: Karissa Glover is a movie producer who moves into a decrepit but functional old mansion in the West Adams Heights area of Los Angeles, where black celebrities of yesteryear—Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, and others—once resided. The former owner was a white actress, Blair Kendrick, who often starred as the "bad girl"—a femme fatale—in films noir of the 1940s. However, Blair’s career was cut short when she was tragically killed by the mob after allegedly witnessing the slaying of a corrupt studio head in 1949.
As Karissa and her producing partner decide to develop a modern film noir about Blair Kendrick, malevolent forces from the past attempt to stop them—first with intimidation, and then with the thread of murder.

Is this because Karissa has learned that Blair was involved in a then-taboo interracial relationship with jazz musician Hank Marley? What really happened on the night that death struck in a dimly lit studio mogul’s office? The consequences of Blair and Hank’s doomed love affair still resonate in the present day as Karissa attempts to unravel Blair’s secrets.

I love reading about the darker side of Hollywood - who doesn't love reading about a salacious scandal, a mysterious death (or two), blackmail, the infamous "casting couch", the "fixers" who kept the stars' secrets from becoming front page news, and studio bosses who ruled them all.

"Blues In The Dark" covers all of the above, through alternating and interweaving narrative from the present and the past, when a modern-day film maker decides to make a film on a long dead movie start, and in the process uncovers secrets many would kill to ensure remain well hidden.

We all know there's a mystery and a film, but how we get there is slowly teased out chapter by chapter, the tension constantly building as both stories unfold before us and little clues click into place. When the stories do merge, what is revealed is a cycle of destruction and sadness.

I was nearly tempted to categorise this as a cosy mystery - but cosy noir is more apt.

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