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by Mary Daheim
William Morrow & Co., May 2002
306 pages
ISBN: 0380978679

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Theatre folk are a notoriously superstitious group. Refer to MACBETH by title and not as "The Scottish Play" and you risk having your head handed to you. So it is just this side of believable that Hollywood mogul Bruno Zepf has taken over Judith McGonigle Flynn's b&b for himself and his entourage as he opens his newest film in Seattle. (He had been staying at a b&b when his first film came out and hit it big, so he believes that staying at a b&b brings him luck.) Not this side of believable is that he is willing to share a bathroom and that two divas, who have enough cosmetics to stock the Estee Lauder counter at Nordstrom's, would not only agree to share a bathroom but also a bedroom. However, the sycophants are not enthusiastic about Hillside Manor, making cutting remarks about their accommodations: "...worse than that no star hotel in Oman"; "...bathtowels like sandpaper..."

Not surprising, Zepf's film, "The Gasman" is a total dud. Four hours of the history of the world as seen through the eyes of a gasman does not provide riveting cinema. Half the audience decamps at intermission. At the post premiere "wake" at the b&b, Zepf is found drowned in the kitchen sink. Judith is afraid that a loose cabinet door hit Zepf in the head and caused his death, thereby leaving the b&b vulnerable to a lawsuit. Judith and her cousin Renie investigate, though there is no real evidence that there actually was a murder until the end of the novel. Judith's husband, Joe, former cop, now private investigator, supports Judith's sleuthing, telling her that she has a way with people. Judith's way with people is to ask questions so nosy and personal that it's a miracle one of the characters doesn't haul off and belt her. This quality of intrusiveness makes Judith less than believable. No one -- other than a police officer -- would be able to get away with the kind of questions Judith asks.

The novel is peopled with the usual Hollywood stereotypes -- the coke-addicted female star, the narcissistic male star, the director who sees everything as a potential shot, the neglected writer, the studio's damage control lawyer.

Daheim has created one of the least believable characters in mysterdom in Judith's mother, Grace Grover. Even Mother Teresa would be looking for the nearest weapon if she had to spend five minutes in Grace's company. It seems unlikely that Judith would put up with a woman who has described both of Judith's husbands as "Lunkhead" and treats her daughter more as a servant than a daughter. Grace's fading memory does lead to some of the book's funnier moments. She asks Judith if stars such as Theda Bara are in the house. She also tells Zepf that she survived the sinking of the Titantic because she was such an excellent swimmer.

In the end, Daheim doesn't play fair with the reader. The conclusion relies on too many "leaps of faith" and coincidences.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, June 1902

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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