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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 30.
- Review Date: 2009-07-06
- Reviewer: Staff
James Ellroy fans will find a lot to like in this gritty look at post-WWII Hollywood from Edgar-winner Kanon (Los Alamos). Ben Collier, recently returned to the U.S. from service in the Signal Corps in Europe, travels to California after his sister-in-law, Liesl, informs him that his director brother, Danny, has suffered a serious fall from a hotel window. Was it an accident or a suicide attempt? Ben arrives in time to witness his brother briefly emerge from a coma, but soon afterward Danny dies. While Liesl believes the suicide theory, Ben suspects someone pushed Danny out the window and turns amateur detective to identify the culprit. In a noirish twist, the widowed Liesl comes on to Ben. The stakes rise after Ben learns Danny was playing a part in an anticommunist crusade a congressman is launching against the film industry. Kanon perfectly balances action and introspection, while smoothly integrating such real-life figures as actress Paulette Goddard into the plot. (Sept.)
Welcome to Hollywood
Joseph Kanon has made his mark in the literary thriller genre, starting with 1997’s Edgar-winning Los Alamos. His fascination with the post-WWII era continues in Stardust, which blends one man’s search for the reasons for his brother’s death with an eye-opening look at the machinations of the Hollywood studios during the Communist witch hunts.
Ben Collier (formerly Kohler) returns to the U.S. at the end of the war, taking the train from New York to California, where his brother Danny, a movie director, is hospitalized—supposedly after jumping from his fifth floor apartment. On the train Ben meets a producer who knows Danny and promises Ben he will help him with a movie he has been assigned to make for the Army—a short film dramatizing the horrors of the concentration camps.
Ben reaches the hospital in time to see Danny briefly come out of his coma, then die. Their father died in the Holocaust, and Danny later helped many Jewish Germans, including his own wife, Liesl, escape. At his funeral, Ben meets some of these emigrants who owed Danny their lives; Ben senses they are demanding some kind of justice.
Kanon thus sets the stage for the melding of these two plots: Ben’s search for his brother’s killer set against the backdrop of the politics and paybacks of the competing studios in Hollywood’s early years.
At the same time, the war’s aftermath is leading to the hunt for Communists all over the country—but nowhere is the hunt fueled by such fervor as in Hollywood. As Ben gradually unravels the intricate ties between Congress, the FBI and its informants, he simultaneously garners information about who might have wished Danny dead—information that puts him in danger, as well.
Once again Kanon has woven real-life figures—from Paulette Goddard and Jack Warner to Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann—into a taut thriller, all set against the background of one of the least laudable moments in our country’s history.
Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado.