- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Life is tough in Hollywood and it’s a lot tougher if you’re a 40-year-old actress named Diana Poole who has to resume her career after the sudden death of her screenwriter husband. That’s the setting for Melodie Johnson Howe’s “City of Mirrors: A Diana Poole Thriller” (Pegasus Books, 279 pages, $24.95), a thriller that rings true because the author is an movie and television actress turned writer.
As if the death of her husband a year ago isn’t enough of a blow, Diana has to deal with the very recent death of her mother, Nora Poole, whose cremated remains she spends much of the novel carrying around, because she can’t lock the doors of her aging Jaguar, which boasts “six ashtrays and no airbags”. Nora was a Hollywood legend, and everybody knows how difficult it is for the daughter of a Hollywood legend, especially if you’re 40 and you might as well be dead in a town driven by youth.
Jenny, 20, playing 16, is the problem on the film’s set. She’s the spoiled daughter of a mysterious and menacing 60-something Santa Barbara resident, who owns real estate, “some islands” and “people.” One person he owns is Diana’s next-door, screenwriter Ryan Johns, whose gambling marker Parson now owns. (Did I say there’s a lot going on in “City of Mirrors”? But wait, there’s more, much more).
Jenny can’t remember her lines, thanks in part to her late-night club-going, so Zaitlin tells Diana to work with her to save the movie, which is important to everybody, especially Diana, but also the movie’s female director, Beth Woods. If it’s difficult to be an aging beauty, it’s even harder to be a female director in Hollywood. When Diana goes to meet with Jenny, she uses the cardboard box containing Nora’s cremains to get into the young actress’s West Hollywood apartment. Looking out the window, she sees a garbage bag wrapped body in a Dumpster. It turns out to be Jenny’s. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The plot gets even complicated as Hollywood fixer Leo Heath, who works for Zaitlin and Parson, meets Diana. Actually, he meets her for the second time, but I won’t reveal the circumstances of the first meeting. This is a novel with a lot of humor, along with terror, abduction and, of course, death. The characters jumped off the page at me, they’re that real. The dialogue is just as good: This is a real page-turner, with an abundance of action and memorable characters. Johnson Howe is a former actress, so she’s writing about a world she knows intimately, as only an insider can do.
About the Author
Melodie Johnson Howe is the author of two previous novels, “The Mother Shadow”, nominated for an Edgar award, and “Beauty Dies”; a collection of short fiction, “Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories”; and a play, “The Lady of the House”. After a career in movies and television, she quit acting to write novels. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband. From her website, http://www.melodiejohnsonhowe.com/:
“I was born in Los Angeles and grew up under the relentless sun and the dusty palm trees dreaming of becoming a great writer. Then Hollywood discovered me. At twenty-one I did a screen test for Universal Studios. Never having acted professionally, I somehow managed to get a seven-year contract. In that same month I married Bones Howe, record producer and bachelor father of three small children. At twenty-one you can do anything.
“In my first acting job I was shot dead in the titles of a TV movie. They covered me with a sheet and carted me off to an ambulance. Only my hair showed. But in my next role I starred in a TV movie called “Kicks” where I shot Mickey Rooney dead. Over the next few years I acted in such movies as: “The Ride To Hangman’s Tree” co-starring with James Farentino; “Coogan’s Bluff” [directed by Don Siegel] with Clint Eastwood; “Gaily, Gaily” directed by Norman Jewison; “Rabbit Run” with James Caan; and “The Moonshine War”, co-starring with Alan Alda.”
Publisher’s website: http://www.pegasusbooks.us