The Hollywood Murders

George Baxt: The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case  (1993, dt.: Mordfall für Marlene Dietrich)

Hollywood in the early 1930s. At one of Marlene Dietrich´s lavish parties, a guest is poisoned: a Chinese astrologer and fortune teller, about to reveal a secret about “a great danger” connected with someone present. Police officer Herb Villon, who had come in the company of society reporter Hazel Dickson, immediately takes over the case – but he can´t keep curious Marlene and her friend, Anna Mae Wong, from meddling. The key to the murder lies in the victim´s past, which ties to her several suspects all of which were at Marlene´s party.

This was an entertaining read. Nothing too special, but a nice trip to Hollywood in its heyday, with a bit of humor and a great Marlene and Anna Mae. The story was conceived with a bit too much historic hindsight, however: Of course, the murder victim had to have been to Europe in her past, had to have met an ambitious young politician named Adolf Hitler there and had to have predicted a terrible future connected with him. This is then muddled with an international political conspiracy which involves Nazis, Russian bolshevists, an arms dealer, and more. The Second World War already overshadows the plot, as something planned at least 10 years before its actual outbreak, while other events of the 1920s and 1930s which would have been stronger on the contemporary minds, are hardly mentioned at all. It didn´t bother me too much until I read more books by the same author.

George Baxt: The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case  (1986, dt.: Mordfall für Alfred Hitchcock)

Munich, 1925. Alfred Hitchcock, still an unknown British director, is directing  his first feature film, “The Pleasure Garden”, when two members of his crew are murdered and another has a nervous breakdown and is first institutionalized, then vanishes. The case is not solved.

“11 years later, in London, an old Munich acquaintance, ill and distraught, begs Hitchcock to read a spy thriller script. The script-deliverer is murdered on Hitchcock’s doorstep. The script itself features the abduction of Alma Hitchcock and police pursuit of Hitch (as a suspected murderer), while he searches for a master spy in order to clear himself and rescue his wife. Alma is kidnapped, Hitch is almost framed for murder and he hares off, chased by Scotland Yard, in pursuit of a double-agent.” (Publishers Weekly). 

It is a really nice idea to have Alfred Hitchcock as the protagonist of a story that could be one of his own movies – including the obligatory cool blonde woman and, of course, a MacGuffin, Hitchcock’s famous red-herring device. The book is more of a spy thriller than a straightforward murder mystery, though.

George Baxt: The Greta Garbo Murder Case  (1992, dt.: Mordfall für Greta Garbo)

Hollywood, 1941. Greta Garbo has just lost her studio contract and lets her neighbour Peter Lorre talk her into accepting the starring role in a lavish independent production on Joan of Arc. But something is decidedly odd about the whole venture, and the production has the attention of the FBI and the local police under Herb Villon, long before a body is found in an abandoned house that belongs to the millionaire producer…

This was the most recent book by Baxt that I read – and the weakest one, perhaps because I could not read the book on its own but always had the comparison to the other two in the back of my mind. The characterisation of Greta Garbo was just too similar to that of Marlene Dietrich (main difference being, Marlene loved cooking and Greta was melancholy), including the attitude that of course she can play along with the suspect to draw him out – after all, she played a spy once. Both books even have a German representative make a generous offer to the movie star to get her to come back to Germany and work for Hitler and the Reich. (Which, of course, both divas decline). The witty quotations, present in all Baxt´s books so far, felt somewhat contrived by now, as if he had had a “Famous Quotes” dictionary by his side when writing and just forced them in wherever he could. The actual murder happens rather late in the book and the focus is – again! – less on the investigation and the murder mystery aspect of the story (which is what I´d expect from a book with So-and-so Murder Case in its title) than on the conspiracy/spy story aspect. And even though with this book set in 1941, the underground Nazi conspirator element is perhaps fitting better than in the other two, GEEZ!  Mr.Baxt, are there no other solutions you can offer to your readers? Were there no other criminals in Hollywood´s heyday?

These novels are listed as part the “Jacob Singer mystery” series which is puzzling because none of them have even a supporting character of that name. In the two of them that are set in Hollywood, the cop in charge is Herb Villon.

Nevertheless, here´s an overview of Baxt´s Hollywood-related murder novels:

1. The Dorothy Parker Murder Case (1984)
2. The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case (1986)
3. The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Case (1987)
4. The Talking Pictures Murder Case (1990)
5. The Greta Garbo Murder Case (1992)
6. The Noel Coward Murder Case (1992)
7. The Mae West Murder Case (1993)
8. The Marlene Dietrich Murder Case (1993)
9. The Bette Davis Murder Case (1994)
10. The Humphrey Bogart Murder Case (1995)
11. The William Powell and Myrna Loy Murder Case (1996)
12. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Murder Case (1997)
13. The Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Murder Case (1997)

I´m reading the Dorothy Parker one next. If that has Nazi spies in it, too, I´m going to scream.

How not to fake a suicide

In the news today.

A woman killed her husband and tried to pass it off as a suicide.  It didn´t work – probably because it´s a bit difficult for you to shoot yourself in the back and then set your body on fire.

The scary thing is that the first police on the scene actually fell for it.

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment