Ever since reading Jacqueline Susann’s “The Valley Of The Dolls” at an impressionable age I have had a hankering for tales of Hollywood featuring actors who create an impression, fall in love, find fame hard to cope with, take drugs and begin a downward spiral. Nowadays, these novels are in short supply, the “bonkbuster” style having gone out of fashion. Jackie Collins has written more of a few like this and I always enjoyed sister Joan’s novels which followed along similar themes. Carol Branston has added her name to this list and by setting it in the period of the late 60’s/early 70’s has the opportunity to capture the hedonism of Hollywood at this time.
The novel begins with a murder, Nicky Venuti, who was just a few years before Hollywood’s golden boy, meeting his end by a knife in the street. This is the tale as to how this happened. Nicky’s character is dwarfed by a couple of the others. English rose Valerie Rhodes is catapaulted into fame when she co-stars with Nicky and the pair become high profile lovers. It is Valerie whose rise and downward spiral is central in this book. She is somewhat unlikeable, passively floats from one situation to another and it is no surprise that she is soon shovelling pills down her throat. Nicky, also not terribly likeable, sees Valerie as a way of covering up his homosexuality. Both are weak and are soon victims of Hollywood. More likeable is the superbly trashy super-rich Karen van Dougall who manipulates everyone but is often their only true friend. This is the end of the swinging 60’s and sexualities are blurred as drugs, sex and booze are readily available.
The story moves along generally well in the build-up to Nicky’s demise. Some scenes are overwritten to the point of triviality and sometimes more significant scenes are just reported. Branston is keen to give us a narrator to relate to, Joe, hairdresser to the stars. I didn’t feel that this was necessary. I don’t feel that Joe adds anything to the story by being its narrator. You rarely get the sense of him and often forget it is him telling the tale. An anonymous third-person omniscient narration would have worked better . Joe’s rare interventions into the story do not really work.
I think Branston has a good go at conveying the feel of New York and Hollywood at this time, and is really quite effective when the story moves to Swinging London. There’s a kind of guilty pleasure when the characters hit upon difficult times and situations but in this kind of book that is to be expected. It does recall the days when Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins and their ilk were churning out novels like this although with boundaries being pushed back since then Branston is able to be more explicit in her depiction of the amoral at work and play.
Murder! Hollywood Style was published in April 2015 by First Edition Publishing 2015. Amazon has it available as both paperback and Kindle edition.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this title for me to review.