When Heilmann and an old friend of Jessie’s mother are found murdered the morning after in their homes, though, Jessie gets nervous. The victims have little in common besides the party and Jessie herself, but maybe they share a killer as well. Fairbanks knows that in these difficult years following the Fatty Arbuckle incident, the industry may not survive another morality scandal, so Jessie gets asked to do damage control – which leads to yet more trouble.
This is more of a traditional mystery than The Impersonator, since it lacks the suspenseful dread of discovery that Jessie endured throughout that novel. That said, there’s little that's traditional about Jessie herself, much as she’d like to pretend otherwise. Having grown up in vaudeville, her street-smarts and creative talent for deception are part of who she is. Her saucy narrative voice makes her good company, and there are two men who’d definitely agree with that – one a perceptive WWI vet who may be that rarity in corrupt L.A., an honest policeman, and the other an old flame from Portland who’s Jessie’s match in deceit and then some.
It all makes for fun entertainment, one with well-integrated appearances by both familiar and lesser-known names from the era, like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford’s two high-maintenance siblings, newcomer Gary Cooper, and his former Montana neighbor-turned-Hollywood-ingénue, Jessie’s good friend Myrna Loy.
Silent Murders was published this week by Minotaur in hardcover ($25.99/C$29.99, 311pp, incl. historical note). Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC.