Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, history, and a fun mystery
Cons: How the police treat Lillian is a little unbelievable at times
The Bottom Line:
Murder set in old
Hollywood combines real and
Fictional for fun
Renee Patrick Has Designed a Fun Debut
I’ve long been fascinated with Hollywood and the movies, so any time a mystery set in old Hollywood crosses my radar, I take note. I don’t read them, but I take note. I changed that with Design for Dying, the debut mystery from Renee Patrick, and I’m very glad I did.
It’s November 1937, and Lillian Frost has landed a job at a department store in Los Angeles. She came to Hollywood from New York thanks to winning a contest for a screen test. Her acting ability was about what she expected, but she is determined to stay in California.
Trouble walks into her store one day in the form of two homicide cops. They are investigating the death of Ruby Carroll, Lillian’s former roommate. When Lillian recognizes the dress that Ruby was wearing as a costume from a movie, she finds herself crossing paths with Edith Head, the costumer at Paramount Pictures even if her name isn’t on the big office in the department. The two women are curious what happened to Ruby. Might Lillian’s knowledge of Ruby and Edith’s knowledge of Hollywood help the police solve the crime?
Having lived in Southern California for the past 20 years, I thought I’d feel right at home in the setting right away. It took me a few chapters, but that’s just because of how much the area has changed in the last 80 years. It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in this place at that time.
And make no mistake this is a book set in Hollywood. Real people rub elbows with our fictional characters. I don’t know as much about Hollywood history as I would like (for example, I’d never heard of Edith Head before), especially this period, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a few cameos, but that doesn’t matter because I had fun reading these fictional appearances of the people I did know.
But this book isn’t just Hollywood. In fact, it never forgets that it is a mystery first. The book actually starts with Lillian finding out that Ruby is dead, and we then get to know Ruby via a few memories that Lillian shares and the investigation. It works well to pull us quickly into the story. There are a couple of nice twists to things before we reach the end. While I had my eye on the villain, I loved how the clues came together, and the climax was a lot of fun.
As I stated earlier, I can’t state for sure who in the cast of characters is real and who is fictional, but I honestly don’t really care. Everyone came alive on the page for me, and the real and fictional rubbing elbows was much of the fun for me. Lillian is our first person narrator for the book, and while she uncovers a few of the clues and is involved in the majority of the action, at times she is the sidekick for Edith. It’s a good sleuthing partnership that brings to mind some of the classic pairings of the genre.
My only hesitation is how the police treated Lillian. Yes, they explain it in the course of the story, but it still doesn’t quite ring true for me. But I was having so much fun this was a very minor point.
Design for Dying bring Hollywood history to life while weaving a fun and tangled mystery. I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to visit this dynamic duo again.