By Alison Bunis
Calling all film buffs and mystery fanatics! Loren D. Estleman’s Valentino Mysteries is the perfect combination of murder, mayhem, and great gems of film history. And you’re in luck, because the next book in the series, Indigo, comes out on July 28th! But what’s this? You’re having trouble remembering the first five books? You need a little something to get the memory reels rolling? Don’t worry, we’re here to help with a quick series roundup of all the adventures our mild-mannered film archivist turned amateur sleuth has gotten into.
In the surreal world of Hollywood film, truth is often stranger than fiction. So when Valentino buys a decrepit movie palace and uncovers a skeleton in the secret Prohibition basement, he’s not really surprised. But he’s stunned by a second discovery: priceless, long-lost reels of Erich von Stroheim’s infamous film Greed.
The LAPD wants to take the reels into evidence, which would jeopardize the precious, rare old film. If Valentino wants to save his incredible find, he has only one option: solve the murder within 72 hours, with just his film-scholar mentor and a feisty but flaky law student to help him. As a budding romance with a forensics investigator and visions of Von Stroheim’s ghost begin to get in the way, Valentino’s race to save the film is turning into a screwball comedy. Just with a little more…murder.
The second installment sees Valentino fighting to save his run-down movie palace, the Oracle, from being condemned before he’s had the chance to fix it up and open it. But his life won’t let him concentrate on the problem―murder keeps intruding. At a gala held in memory of screen legend Greta Garbo, he’s having fun until the host, Matthew Rankin, tells Valentino about a certain letter from Garbo to Rankin’s late wife. She and Garbo had been…close. Naturally, film archivist Valentino is greatly interested in the letter, but it turns out Rankin’s assistant is using the letter to blackmail him! As appalling as blackmail is to Valentino, it does make the letter’s contents sound even juicier. But when Valentino returns to Rankin’s mansion after the party, he discovers Rankin sitting at his desk, pistol in hand, staring at his assistant’s dead body. So now the letter is off-limits, and Valentino is not happy about it. Plus, his girlfriend is in trouble, and he’s been kicked out of the Oracle, so Valentino has had to move in with his eccentric mentor. It’s shaping up to be an interesting case…
This time, Valentino turns his attention to Frankenstein. Well, Frankenstein’s monster, to be precise. Everyone knows the monster was played by Boris Karloff. It’s the most famous portrayal of the monster possibly ever. But before the part went to Karloff, another 1930s film icon tested for the role: Bela Lugosi. That screen test footage has been lost for decades, but now Valentino has a hot tip on the whereabouts of the footage, which apparently doesn’t show Lugosi at his best. Valentino is desperate to get his hands on the screen test―but not desperate enough to die for it, and there’s someone who’ll kill to get that reel of film. Valentino would rather not die for the sake of art, but that reel is too good to give up without a fight…
Enter a crew of steampunk fans. Loving the arcane strangeness that is Valentino’s life, and the completely glam prospect of seeing the original filmic Count Dracula as Frankenstein’s monster―the crew will find a way to save both Valentino and Lugosi’s infamous screen test. Or if they can’t do that, have a great party anyway. Valentino just hopes it isn’t his wake…
When Valentino is a the closing party for the Red Montana and Dixie Day museum, he finds himself approached by no less than his hero and man-of-the-hour Red Montana, western film and television star. It’s not good luck, though. Red has heard of Valentino, and tells him that he’s being blackmailed over the existence of a “blue” film that his wife, now known throughout the world as the wholesome Dixie Day, made early in her career. With Dixie on her deathbed, her devoted husband Red is desperate to save her the embarrassment of the promised scandal, so he offers Valentino a deal: find the movie, and he can have Red’s lost film, Sixgun Sonata, which Red has been hiding away in his archives. Don’t accept, and the priceless reels go up in flames.
Feeling a little blackmailed himself, Valentino agrees and begins to dig. But this is Hollywood, and what you see onscreen is rarely the reality. As he races to uncover the truth, his heroes begin to fall from grace. Valentino desperately wants to save Sixgun Sonata, but at what cost?
When Valentino’s friend and former actress Beata Limerick tells him she quit the business because of a curse on blonde actresses, he doesn’t take her very seriously. Still, she insists: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Thelma Todd, Sharon Tate…they all had more fun, but none of them made it out of the business alive, and Beata isn’t taking any chances. So when Valentino finds Beata’s body staged the way Monroe was found, with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” playing on repeat, he’s sure her death was no accident.
The police don’t quite suspect that Valentino is the killer, but they can’t quite shake the idea. After all, for he seems to be involved in more than the usual share of intrigue and death for a film archivist. He’s a prime suspect. But he’s also a walking encyclopedia of Hollywood knowledge. And when another washed-up actress is killed, and the crime scene is staged to copy Thelma Todd’s last moments, the police have no choice but to enlist Valentino’s help in catching a serial killer before he can strike again…even if it’s only so they can keep a close eye on their main suspect as he dishes out Hollywood facts.
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