Coffee Town Press, Oct. 2017
$5.95Kindle $13.41 Trade paper
Passing by the famous Hollywood sign in the hills above tinsel town, Eddie Collins drives his Olds Cutlass though an uncharacteristically rainy Southern California afternoon. “As the wipers droned back and forth like two annoying metronomes, I began to feel an emptiness oozing into me.”
He’s just learned that his ex-wife, movie actress Elaine Weddington, died in her trailer at Americana Pictures, a bottle of medicine lying next to her. Accident or murder? Although it’s been more than eight years since they split, as her career started to take off and Collins’ acting opportunities flattened out, he harbors good memories.
Weddington was in the middle of filming Flames of Desire and her death puts the movie’s future in jeopardy. Since Americana Pictures had taken out a completion bond to protect the studio’s investment, the bond company hires a private investigator: Eddie Collins.
As his acting jobs became more hit or miss, he opened Collins Investigations to keep him “sane and solvent.” Since he had worked for the bond company before, he is hired to look into the murder at the Flames of Desire set, regardless of his connection to Weddington.
Mixing crime and the movie biz, author Clive Rosengren starts his Eddie Collins mystery series with the Weddington case in Murder Unscripted. Two other novels are in print, another is due out later this year and the author is working on book #5. A Hollywood actor himself for many years, Rosengren knows his way around a movie set and treats readers to insider tidbits that make the story all the more realistic.
After the rain, Rosengren says, “patches of water on the street…reflected the light like movie streets invariably do. One never sees a dry street at night in the movies, even during the sweltering heat of the summer.”
A second murder complicates the case. Collins is led all over the movie lot and outside to dingy bars as he questions, Sam Goldman, the studio head, along with movie stars, assistant directors and various hangers on, most with secrets that aren’t in the PI’s script.
The story progresses in a relaxed, comfortable style with Collins sharing reminiscences of films and actors of the past as he tries to establish the whereabouts of various suspects at the times the murders were committed. Rosengren fills the book with Collins’ light-hearted observations that kept me smiling.
“A lot of people stand around at a movie set. The most popular place is the craft [catering] services tables. Munchies abound, the bill of fare running the gamut from squeaky-clean to double-bypass.”
Collins is occasionally reminded of scenes from old movies.
“…I saw a bearded old man who looked like Walter Huston peering at me through the window. His beady little eyes followed every move I made. The spines of the cacti must be protecting his own Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Since I didn’t look like either Bogie or Tim Holt, he probably couldn’t figure out who the hell I was.”
Collins is 41, unmarried, tall and describes himself in Hollywood terms as a cowboy type. He’s not a full-time shamus and an early chapter shows him dressed in western duds, acting in a TV commercial for Chubby’s Chicken. After Collins and a partner have gone through 17 on-camera takes, including biting into the chicken, we learn the necessity of an actor’s spit bag.
The PI side of Collins’ life is complete with a secretary loaded with moxie, a small office and tiny attached apartment, a fondness for Jim Beam and beer chasers and an occasional eye for attractive women.
“She always dressed in richly colored blouses that gave the faint suggestion of a woman who didn’t mind staying out late.”
Rosengren has an enviable knack for phrasing:
“She looked as uncomfortable as Gidget sitting in the middle of an Elk’s convention.”
“As lonely as an Orange County Democrat” referring to one of California’s few right-wing enclaves.
Searching for a wandering dog, Collins observes:
“There was no sign of Clyde, other than what he had deposited on the lawn.”
Collins has such a smooth, somehow familiar narrative voice—a term usually applied to authors, but I’m applying to the first person point of view character here—he sounds like someone you would like to know.
Just as life is a journey, not a destination, you read Rosengren to follow Collins’ intriguing, at times idiosyncratic—and wholly entertaining—life as he pokes around his Hollywood haunts in search of the truth. Naturally, he ultimately solves the murders, but getting there is the most fun. Then, of course, you crave another case with Eddie.