February 28, 2005

BOOKS: Show Business Is Murder, Stuart M. Kaminsky, ed. (2004)

Each year, the Mystery Writers of America assemble an anthology of original stories built around a specific theme. Here's the most recent entry in their series, a collection of stories about show biz and crime.The quality is very high; there's nothing that's flat-out awful, and a lot that's very good.

I was a bit surprised at how many of the stories dealt with the Hollywood Blacklist. I probably shouldn't have been; emotions still run high about that ugly time, and there are certainly enough motives for various crimes to be found in those events. Best of that group is Steve Hockensmith's remarkable "Fred Menace, Commie for Hire," which does what I'd have thought impossible: It's a comic Blacklist tale, a magnificent hard-boiled parody in which the hero -- a Communist private eye -- comments on his own Bogie-esque attitude:

I instantly regretted it. Cynicism is a decadent pose, a facade of apathetic ennui that's antithetical to the committed idealism of the true internationalist. But when you're a private eye, it sort of gets to be a habit.

Other highlights include Elaine Viets' "Blonde Moment," in which a TV anchor's scheming goes badly awry; Libby Fischer Hellman's "A Berlin Story," set (mostly) between the wars; and Robert Lopresti's "On the Bubble," about a TV action star fearing the cancellation of his show. Shelley Freydont's "The Dying Artist" has a too-obvious ending, but it does a fine job of establishing its creepy mood.

Fine collection, and highly recommended.

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