Acquired Book By: I received an enquiry from a publicist at Tor/Forge in regards to this lovely new Historical Mysteries series I had not had the pleasure of finding out about previously! I was quite excited about what the scope of the series might entertain as I have a fond appreciation for Old Hollywood and the treasure trove of movies one can experience through the channel Turner Classic Movies (or TCM for short). Being one of the lead characters was Edith Head (a woman of interest of my own from Hollywood’s past) it felt like a wicked good fit for me to accept this series for review. Especially as I love watching old films as a stepping stone towards ‘discovering’ new actors and actresses I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing before and in effect become my ‘new favourites’ even decades after their careers ended. There is a pulse inside those films and I love watching the fashions change as much as the settings and story-lines!
I received a complimentary copy of “Dangerous to Know” direct from the publisher Forge (an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
Why I am loving the energy of this wicked good Cosy Historical Mystery series:
Their cheeky humour is well timed and brilliantly placed – as for instance – when your first observing the department store Tremayne – I’d like to hear from a reader who didn’t smirk themselves into a laugh when they read how the section manager arranged the wares of the women’s department! If that isn’t comedic and brilliantly astute of how to sell more stock than what is left behind, I don’t think I could capture his tenacious spirit better than the authors did! I love how they thread their setting and their world into your imagination by presenting you with both the aesthetics and readily understood ‘points of reference’ where envisioning their novel is a delight to your senses! They nail their era of choice by dialogue, background ambiance and the sensational brilliance of era-specific comedy!
My own love of this generation aided me in recognising the ‘pop cultural references’, the slang words and the tongue-in-cheek comedic bits which made this such a classically brilliant story to read! You wouldn’t readily suspect it was published in the 21st Century as it has such a strong vibe of realistically authentic representations of the ’30s! I love that about this series! Seriously, what is better than finding authors who have threaded a needle back inside the early Nineteen Hundreds?
-quoted from my review of Design for Dying
I sensed I might become wholly addicted to this series – especially when I realised when it was set and how it might be staged around the fever pitch of Hollywood during the Golden Years of the studios. There would be plenty of fodder to examine from those early generations where the Film Industry was getting it’s groove on – where you could make and break a career on the grit you had to make your dreams a reality. Each time I soak inside a classic movie via TCM or borrow a dvd from my library and/or purchase one for my own media library – you feel like time has stood still. You can still re-enter this period of Film History – seeing everything as if it were being shot close to our current timeline and re-examine what it was like to create motion pictures in the early bits of the 20th Century. These were the foundation years – where talkies had overtaken the Silent generation and where actors and actresses were not just vying for parts but asserting their personalities for the roles they felt bit their talent.
What I hadn’t expected is the clarity of the era and the cheekiest method of re-exhuming it for our readerly senses to be threaded into such a sophisticated arc of narrative by the Patrick’s*. I could not have sought out a more ‘me centric’ novel than this particular series illumines! By this, I refer to how cleverly crafted the roots of the series were made but also, how well in-tune the Patrick’s are with their base of origin! It’s just a treat to dive right back into this harried world where faking your way to the top is the order of the day but also, backing up what your bluffing about with ballsy guts, winning charm and the merits of hard work to prove the point past getting your foot in the door! It’s a lively and engaging series you want to become re-immersed inside as soon as you exit – especially considering how quickly things can ‘change’ in your absence! This is Hollywood after all, and nothing is ever quite static when there is something new coming round the corner!
Being in the position to read both the debut of the series and the sequel, er, book two back to back has been a true gift for my readerly heart because I’ve been able to follow straight through alongside Edith and Lillian as they find themselves in new territory (career wise) and further establishing their bond of friendship as they navigate sleuthing when cases present themselves. These two are natural bourne sleuths for how their minds like to knit together puzzles and how they have the gumption to place themselves in danger with the off-set of confidence to use their minds to get themselves out of trouble.
I love thinking-man stories where part of the joy of noodling out the mystery for yourself is watching how the characters stitch everything together. This is why I have a fond appreciation for Perry Mason, Columbo, Murdoch Mysteries, Foyle’s War and others like Murder, She Wrote. What makes the mysteries enjoyable is being centerstage to the action and of seeing how the pieces of the crimes are reassembled by those solving them; either from the professional angle or the amateur. Mysteries are just wicked exciting when written with a penchant for the setting and timescape and I’m happy I’ve found a new series in which I can happily entreat inside as the series continues to gain momentum and move forward!
*I realise their not the ‘Patrick’s’ as this is their pen name but for argument sake and for continuity purposes not to defer to saying ‘the authors’ continuously, I’ve decided to use their pen surname thus forward.
A conversation with the writers behind the series:
I love how everything you put into your mystery series stems from your passion for Old Hollywood, the joys of research and of celebrating the legacies left behind in the footsteps of those who interest you most. How did you decide what to include about Edith Head in the beginning in the series to serve as an anchour into the next sequences of stories? In other words, how did you pull together the essence of her legacy but hone in on who she was during her down-time as well?
Their response: We deliberately chose to begin the series with Edith in an unstable professional position, certain that she was about to be fired and possessing few prospects. No one had any expectation that she would become a costume designer of note, least of all her. That gave us a chance to talk about the work habits and mindset that would allow her to grow into the position. We loved learning that outside the office Edith was a different person, letting her hair down literally and figuratively. That discovery made us look forward to exploring that side of her personality as well.
Having read the first two novels in this series, I can give you full credit for bringing Edith straight back to life in how you’ve captured her essence! I felt it was a strong opener to put Edith in a position below the one she was vying to take over, as like you said, it should her personal growth as an artist in her own right but also, the work ethic she was known for having. It also gave a plausible entrance for Lillian to strike up a friendship with Edith; as they had so much in common at that junction.
As you’ve previously stated, Edith Head herself proved to be the best inspiration for your series by granting a liberty of lee-way to take the series forward. What if anything surprised you most of your research into her life? Is there one tidbit of her personal life she might have shared that genuinely interested you but surprised you at the same time?
Their response: Edith inspired three biographies and wrote her own memoir, and the books regularly contradict each other. (In later years, she’d disavow her own book!) We have a better sense of what Edith wants us to believe is true as opposed to the actual truth. As writers, that may be the best position to be in. She cultivated a very stern image but we learned from her correspondence how affectionate she and her husband were with each other. Their letters are full of nicknames, and questions about what the cats are up to. We also found a list of Erle Stanley Gardner books she wanted to buy, so we feel think she’d be comfortable appearing in mystery novels.
Really!? I hadn’t realised this about her biographies or her autobiography! As I declared on my first review, I’m still in the process of researching her myself. I do agree with you here – if the subject your writing about gave you the perfect leeway to take liberty with their life and etch out your own ‘gaps’ between truth and fantasy, you have the best entrance into penning your own version of the truth they might have lived. I love how you were able to get a hold of her correspondences – letters can tell so much about a person as they are quite at home revealling more of themselves in the space of a letter than sometimes a spoken conversation. The beauty of course for all of us, is how letters and correspondences tend to withstand time; ergo, giving us more insight than perhaps we could ever speculate. I love how she loved cats and was a reader of of Mysteries. I think you’ve given her a special treat in being part of a team of amateur sleuths! She might find the whole affair quite champion!
How did you pull yourself back into the era your series is set? What did you find the most difficult of writing authentically for the late 30s?
Their response: The movies themselves are always the best guide. We want to be faithful to the period but also to the movies of the era. So if the book sometimes feels like a screwball comedy, that’s OK with us. Immersing ourselves in the newspapers and magazines of the era allowed us to feel more at home there. The most difficult thing was gauging the level of formality to use. Almost every interaction today is casual, so it took some effort to get out of that mindset and back into people calling each other Mr Smith instead of Joe.
Aren’t they so!? I find I could drink in a heap of movies per each viewing day if only to learn as much as I could which previously hadn’t been discovered! I spent a considerable amount of time viewing Hitchcock’s early films – even then, you could start to see his infamous style coming through, even when some of the films lacked the polish his later releases would embody. His personal style was still being moulded into place and there were little moments of ‘oh’ this is how he developed his signature style right there on the reels! I can see why you’d be enthralled about how you have to watch the movies for researching and developing future plot points – you’d have a well of potential cases percolating to mind all the time! Ah, yes. About the formality – one thing I can attest to is that I have the tendency to being more formal than my peers, even in today’s world. It’s how I was raised and how I still, to this day choose to address people out of respect. For me, it’s second nature to be more formal even in the modern causal world. I would also say you’ve nailed the language, idioms, slang words and phrases of the era, too! I love how the word play in your novels gives my wordsmith heart a heap of joy!
As your writing as a team, how does it work for you whilst your creating your stories? Do you both co-write different sections of the novel or do you write in tandem at the same time and move the story forward all at once? I was curious about your process and how you approach each individual story – or do you have the long scope of the series already set and are working towards that goal?
Their response: We work out detailed outlines in advance so we’re always at least starting from the same place. Then one of us writes a first draft while the other edits and revises. That person then tackles the second draft, so that by the end of the process we’ve each weighed in and “Renee Patrick” does the final pass. Edith’s career spanned seven decades and had her working with so many fascinating people that we’re not at a loss for material. So yes, we have many adventures planned.
Thank you for giving me an inside view into your process! I find it wicked fascinating, truly! It’s almost like you’ve developed your approach quite organically to what befits both of your writing instincts and in the end, it’s become the Patrick’s signature style. All I can say in reply is to continue doing what your doing because it’s a wicked delight for those of us reading your novels!
As you thread the hidden secrets out of time to become bent against this posh world of films and Hollywood, how do you continue to re-inspire your next plot per each new installment? What are your touchstones? What becomes the harbinger of ‘yes!’ that should be the direction we head in ‘moment’ of clarity?
Their response: Edith’s career is a constant source of inspiration. All we have to do is look at the next films she was designing in order to figure out where we want to go next. Plus the broader history of movies is a well that never runs dry. Even if Edith didn’t work on a particular film of note, we’ve found that the world of Hollywood is small enough that we can find a way to involve her and Lillian in its story.
Yes! You definitely have done this well, too! Pulling Edith and Lillian together even if there isn’t an active film being produced! I had a feeling by how you’ve placed them in such close proximity to the studio and the lifestyle of Hollywood – there would be natural causes of connecting them to everything around them. Yes, it is quite a small world – then, most creative worlds are aren’t they? Such as the world of art and the world of publishing, too. You make me smile quite a heap as I’m reading the stories – I recognise so much of the cultural references and of course, the novels have their own rhythm, too.
When it comes to the arc of the series – per decade, how far forward to you foresee taking the series in regards to the transitions Hollywood went through in the 30s, 40s and 50s? What excites you about seeing the series progress through the changes of it’s setting?
Their response: Edith’s last movie was 1981 — and yes, we are prepared to take it that far! We’d love to chart the changing course of women in Hollywood as the industry evolved. In the silent era, women were often writers and directors. With the advent of sound and the rise of the studio system, that changed. Edith was a noteworthy figure, one of the few women in a position of authority. We like to think of the series as a female-centered history of Hollywood.
Ooh! I hadn’t realised this – about how her career went into the early 80s! My, my,.. if you continue to create one novel per each year leading up to 1981, that would make this a full set of 44 novels! Imagine!?! And, a direct history of the Film Industry, to boot! Wow. I am singularly impressed and giddy about that prospect! I love how you’ve focused on the Feminist History of the Industry; I wonder though, why there was a reversal of equality from the Silent era to the Talkies? Hmm. The best way to ‘tell’ history I feel is through Historical Fiction and you’ve given us the added benefit of knitting history round curiously addictive mysteries! I also need to make a list of all the movies mentioned in each of the novels – talk about a primer for what to watch!
What uplifts your spirit the most whilst on a break from writing and researching your next novel?
Their response: It’s never a chore to watch movies, contemporary films or those from the era of the books We love to take long walks, but often end up discussing plot business anyway. And nothing lifts spirits like spirits themselves. Vince makes a mean martini.
Laughs with mirth. No, it would never be a chore to watch movies – of any era or generation! There is so much joy in finding your niches in film and enjoying the moment of seeing someone’s vision pull together through script, art direction, acting and cinematography. (and/or special effects) Isn’t that the way? Being a nature lover and a hiker myself, it does incur inspiration to talk shop about something your creating. I think it’s the backdrop that is curiously inspiring; nature has a way of connecting our mind and imagination in a way that cannot always feel as free elsewhere. A wicked good martini, eh? I wonder if that includes Cosmos! lol I know my grandfather is smiling from heaven knowing his granddaughter grew up enjoying her own martini as he loved his with green olives!
The salon and the case files are open...
Meet Lillian Frost. A transplanted New Yorker with a boundless love of the movies and a single lousy screen test to her credit.
Meet Edith Head. The costume designer who, over the course of a career spanning seven decades, would be nominated for more Academy Awards than any other woman. Who dressed the most glamorous stars in history. Who worked closely with directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder.
Meet the sleuthing duo about to become Hollywood’s greatest detectives.
Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names and endless glamour as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department---though her position is precarious and her eight Academy Awards are far in her future.
Lillian recently attended a swanky Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler. Now, a vengeful housemaid with Nazi sympathies has all New York society running for cover---and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.
Lillian tries to lay low while the studio is in an uproar over the scandal, but she has no such luck. Edith asks Lillian to look into the disappearance of Jens Lohse, the émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act, as a favor to Dietrich. Lillian reluctantly agrees, and soon finds him---dead.
Dietrich blames agents of the Reich for his murder, and Lillian investigates further. Could Hollywood---thought to be a safe place for German exiles and émigrés---be hiding a sinister Nazi element beneath its glitzy veneer?
As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue that extends from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.
Places to find the book:
Also by this author: Design for Dying
Also in this series: Design for Dying
Published by Forge
on 11th April, 2017
Format: Hardcover Edition
Available Formats: Hardcover + Ebook
Read an Excerpt of Chapter One via Tor/Forge blog!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge