Wednesday, 8 January 2020

The Pictures - Guy Bolton

"In Hollywood, no one is innocent." So runs the blurb. But in Hollywood, in 1939, no one called the movies 'pictures.' Yes, it's quite a clever pun pointing to the solution of the mystery, but if it's that good, and that important, Bolton should have set the novel in the British film industry.

Title apart, it's an impressive fiction debut. Jonathan Craine is an LAPD detective who has a special relationship with MGM.  He was married to one of their lesser stars until she committed suicide. Now he's back after compassionate leave and finds himself summoned to another movie suicide - a producer married to another MGM star whose latest movie is about to hit the screens. I instantly thought Jean Harlow, especially when the fictional studio puts out the same 'closet homosexual' cover story the real MGM used when Harlow's husband Paul Bern shot himself in 1932. Fortunately, The Pictures is not a version of the Harlow story - nor, unfortunately, is the bereaved star Gale Goodwin remotely like Jean Harlow. Instead, it's mainly the story of a studio on the verge of collapse that has staked everything on the upcoming Wizard of Oz and will do absolutely anything to maintain it's family-friendly image.

Craine is an excellent protagonist, conflicted in so many ways but always fundamentally straight. His second-in-command,Patrick O'Neill, starts off annoying but ends up a hero. Gale Goodwin is also well drawn, as are all the Hollywood bigwigs. I would have liked a cameo or two from other movie stars of the period to flesh out the illusion of actuality, but I don't want to nitpick. The plot is cunning, and The Pictures has that often overlooked element in modern thrillers, that is to say genuine thrills. There is a car chase through the Hollywood Hills that had me spellbound and a shootout at the station very nearly as good. Guy Bolton is definitely a name to look out for.

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