With an opening line like this, the reader expects a lively and unusual novel, and in this case, gets it. Belgian author Patrick Conrad, who is also a poet, screenwriter, director, and painter, combines his varied talents in this novel of the silver screen, and fans of film classics will be kept thoroughly entertained and engaged throughout. Several Antwerp deaths modeled after murders in classic films, or associated with the scandalous lives of Hollywood stars and directors, keep Chief Superintendent Fons Luyckx, known as The Sponge, and his assistant, Detective Inspector Lannoy, involved with all the gory details as they search for real clues to real murders while also searching for the cinema connections which might provide them with suggestions about the possible motivation of the killer or killers.
At the heart of the mystery is Professor Victor Cox, who teaches the History of Cinema at the Institute of Film and Theatre Studies and who first comes to the attention of the police when his wife Shelley vanishes one night. The police quickly discover Shelley's mangled body. While staggering, drunk, across an Antwerp bridge with a companion, she had been hit by a car, her body thrown off the bridge by someone unknown. In a double irony, Shelley was still wearing all her jewelry when she was discovered, all of it props used in classic films--from her wedding ring, the one which Veronica Lake wore in This Gun for Hire, to her pearls, worn by Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot. The dark humor of the latter is not lost on the detectives, one of whom wears a Smurf shirt, though they take their jobs seriously as they search for the person who drove the car which killed Shelley.
The author keeps the tension high as five new deaths unfold, and fans of classic films will certainly try to figure out which films provide clues to these deaths, only one of which is obvious. Clues to the murders come at random, requiring the reader to keep straight the names of the real life victims and the nature of their deaths; the plots of the various films that Cox ponders; the names of the victims in the films; the screen names of actresses who have played in those films and their real names; and the possible connections to Cox. The author also inserts red herrings galore, all of them fascinating from the standpoint of film history.
Since Cox's musings are often random and go in many different directions, the novel is confusing at times, but the information about directors, actors and actresses, their lives, and their films kept me wanting to know how the author would resolve the details of six deaths. Loaded with references to Hollywood stars, from Frances Farmer and Clara Bow to Elizabeth Taylor and Clint Eastwood, the novel also features numerous well known directors and insights into their films. The conclusion, which comes rather abruptly, does make the necessary connections so no reader will be left in the dark about the films or actors used as models here, and though the connections are tenuous and strain credulity in several cases, the author's clever and original use of detail will keep the reader smiling. Filled with dark humor and great fun to read (even for novices to classic film). Mary Whipple