Page 45 Review by Stephen
"This was just how it was here
something in the air made it easier to believe the lies."
Los Angeles, 1948. Hollywoodland, to be precise, where the art of selling lies is its hugely successful business.
Acting itself is a form of lying - creating the semblance of someone else - but there are also the myths spun to make actors more attractive to their idolatrous fans. Take the profile of dreamboat actor Tyler Graves, concocted by bright publicity girl Dotty Quinn, playing up his years as a ranch hand in Texas.
"Dotty, you're a riot
I've never ridden a horse in my life."
"I know, I still prefer the first one we came up with
"Oh right. I was a mechanic Selznick discovered when he broke down in Palm Springs."
"It was your own little Cinderella story."
But there's a telling line in Posy Simmond's British classic TAMARA DREWE from the horse's mouth of successful crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiman:
"I think the real secret of being a writer is learning to be a convincing liar... I mean, that's what we are: story tellers... liars..."
He should know: he's a serial philanderer.
Screenwriter Charlie Parish is already lying. He's a good man at heart, though he does like to party, by which I mean he drinks much more than he should. He's prone to blackouts: not just passing out in the bath - which he did, last night - but to alcohol-induced memory blackouts. He's not as bad as Gil Mason, the former writer now blacklisted for supposed Communist sympathies. That man is a full-time drunk and a bar-room bore, badgering all and sundry before being thrown out on the street:
"Can you get up, Gil?"
"Not just this second... I threw my back out trying to deck Bob Hope."
Charlie and Gil used to be friends before Charlie shopped him. Now it's common knowledge that they hate each other's guts.
That's a lie for a start - a dissemblance to cover a mutually beneficial arrangement.
But this morning Charlie has woken up in one of those little bungalows set up in Studio City to keep people close to the set. The night before is a mystery to him, but there's a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminds him of a smile, the smile leads to a face, and that face belongs to the woman lying dead on the living room floor.
It's Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie's working on. She's been strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie begins to remove all trace of his and anyone else's presence. But that's nothing compared to the cover-up the studio's about to embark on, and it's going to make Charlie sick to the stomach.
Anyone who's read CRIMINAL knows of Brubaker's unparalleled ability to immerse readers in the minds of others and make those troubled minds utterly compelling. Anyone who's read CRIMINAL VOL 6 knows he's so good at it that he can make you root for a prospective murderer. You're certainly going to want Charlie to get away with his role - however circumstantial it may be - in Valeria's death and his complicity in the subsequent cover-up, even though the studio is going to smear the poor girl's name.
"He felt sick. Because he knew exactly what they were doing.
"Studios had been covering up murder and rape and everything in between since at least the Roaring Twenties. That's what men like Brodsky were there for
to prevent scandals.
"And he'd helped them this time. He'd helped them."
Charlie is yet another man trapped by his own act of fear, plagued by his guilt and about to do something else he knows he really, really shouldn't
Oh, and if readers think they will miss the horror of this team's FATALE, wait until you see what Phillips pulls off for the nightmare.
It's a period piece, the period being rife with tight-knit nepotism, closed-doors studios and overtly voiced bigotry. Wisely Brubaker has refrained from redacting that. Some people are shits - they just are - and there is such a thing as the non-authorial voice. So much here is tied to the Congressional Hearings just before McCarthyism really hit its stride including a role for Ronald Reagan.
Thankfully Sean Phillips is a dab hand at likenesses for Reagan is joined in this fiction by the likes of Clark Gable. There are also a few neat new tricks from Sean like the ethereal memories of Val's replacement Maya Silver which again reminded me of Posy Simmonds, this time specifically the Janice Brady sequences in MRS WEBER'S OMNIBUS.
As for colour artist Bettie Breitweisser she leaves it until the open-air daylight hours of poor Valeria's funeral in chapter two, but on that very first page - wham! - she's invented yet another colouring technique which is in its own way both impressionist and expressionist concerning the colour and quality of light not as it actually falls or what it falls on but as it might dance on the brain. It's rendered in free-form, fuck-you panes of light and slabs of colour with scant regard for the line on the page and every regard for your eye.
Anyway, back to the acting, the lying and back to the slight-of-hand rigmarole involved in marketing commodities (actors and actresses) to their adoring, lap-it-up public. We're not necessarily quite talking beards here, but Tyler's manliness needs boost-merchandising and Maya proves the perfect accessory. Plus she needs to be introduced to her soon-to-be-adoring public.
"So good old Dottie found a way to kill two birds with one photo op. After dinner, Tyler and Maya dodged the press just badly enough to be followed to Ciro's... where a drunk in the crowd got too friendly with Maya... [Hey!"] ... and Ty knocked his block off."
Oh. In the process of typing this, I think I may have solved a substantial part of the puzzle.