With its ironic and ambiguous title, this whodunit sets new standards for well developed, fast-paced writing, with its complex mysteries within mysteries, and a setting which comes vibrantly alive both in time and place. Set in 1970s Hollywood, "a place where dirt gets a paint job," the story focuses on showbiz stars Lanny Morris and Vince Collins, partners in a hugely successful act, and once best friends, who have not spoken in thirteen years. The Collins/Morris breakup occurred shortly after a beautiful, red-haired woman was found drowned in a bathtub in their hotel room while they were doing a telethon, and narrator O'Connor, a brash and well-endowed journalist who is planning to write a biography of Vince Collins, believes that this death is at the root of their breakup.
As the O'Connor investigates the victim, interviews Collins, meets with Morris and his attorneys (since Morris plans to write his own story), and flies from Hollywood to New York and Florida, author Holmes incorporates spot-on period detail to recreate the roiling world of high profile performers and the intensity of their high stakes lives. The uninhibited O'Connor will do just about anything to get close to her subjects, and her wryly cynical voice keeps the reader entertained with the story's shifts back and forth in time and location. Her willingness to flout convention and her refusal to become rattled by the escalating tension and threats to her safety provide humor at the same time that they show her to be smart and resourceful.
As one may guess from the title, truth and lies sometimes overlap, and surprise after surprise unfolds for the reader as O'Connor finds herself making assumptions, being proved wrong, making new assumptions based on her discoveries, and finding those wrong, too. None of the characters are quite who they seem to be, and as Holmes's witty and lightning-fast dialogue reveals surprises, his background as a writer for stage and television and his mastery of pacing are obvious.
One of the best modern mysteries in recent years, the story is beautifully crafted and filled with characters who seem realistic, despite their Hollywood facades and glitzy lives. Twists and turns occur throughout the book, not just at the conclusion, as Holmes alternates relatively quiet scenes with those full of action. Two "dinner scenes," each of which could compete with the famous banquet/seduction scene from 'Tom Jones,' add life and color, and the uninhibited and sometimes graphic sex seems consistent with the lifestyles of the Hollywood stars and the casual values of biographer O'Connor. A masterfully executed mystery, filled with wit and excitement. n Mary Whipple