The Last Embrace

( 3 )

Overview

From Denise Hamilton, who has been hailed as "one of today's must-read writers" (Lee Child), comes a sexy, atmospheric, and seductive thriller set in 1949 Los Angeles, inspired by classic noir literature and a true unsolved crime.

Lily Kessler, a former stenographer and spy for the OSS, is asked by her late fiancé's mother to find out what happened to his sister Kitty, an actress who is missing from her Hollywood boardinghouse. Although the aspiring starlets at the house insist ...

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The Last Embrace

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Overview

From Denise Hamilton, who has been hailed as "one of today's must-read writers" (Lee Child), comes a sexy, atmospheric, and seductive thriller set in 1949 Los Angeles, inspired by classic noir literature and a true unsolved crime.

Lily Kessler, a former stenographer and spy for the OSS, is asked by her late fiancé's mother to find out what happened to his sister Kitty, an actress who is missing from her Hollywood boardinghouse. Although the aspiring starlets at the house insist that Kitty is off somewhere furthering her career, her body is found the next day in a ravine below the Hollywood sign. Unimpressed by the local police, Lily investigates on her own.

As Lily delves further into Kitty's life, she encoun-ters fiercely competitive actors, gangsters, an eccentric special-effects genius, exotic denizens of Hollywood's nightclubs, and a homicide detective who might distract her from her quest for justice. But the landscape in burgeoning postwar Los Angeles can shift kaleido-scopically, and Lily begins to see how easily a young woman can lose her balance and fall prey to the alluring city's dangers....

With a vibrant cast of memorable characters, unerring insight into the desires and dark impulses that can flare between men and women, and a riveting narrative that builds to a stunning conclu-sion, The Last Embrace showcases Denise Hamilton at the height of her storytelling powers as she transports readers to a fascinating, transitional time in one of America's most beguiling cities.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Lily Kessler, a former OSS officer, fearlessly treads Hollywood's meanest streets in search of her late fiancé's actress sister, Kitty Hayden, who's gone missing while seeking juicy parts and wealthy lovers, in this evocative stand-alone set in 1949 from Hamilton (Prisoner of Memory and four other Eve Diamond thrillers). Soon after moving into Kitty's grungy boarding house, Lily learns Kitty's been murdered, like the famous "Black Dahlia" not long before, and she puts all her skills-intuition, deduction, inference and logic-into unraveling the crime. Gang wars, police corruption, shady reporters and a passionate new love interest, Det. Stephen Pico, can't stop Lily. Despite some papier-mâché minor characters and some celluloid motivations, this torrid, down-and-dirty exposé of the postwar entertainment industry includes enough special effects to make all that glitter look-temporarily-like 24-carat gold. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Departing from her award-winning Eve Diamond crime series (Prisoner of Memory; Last Lullaby), Hamilton sets this stand-alone novel in 1949 Hollywood. Former stenographer and OSS spy Lily Kessler returns to Los Angeles as a favor to her late fiancé's mother. She agrees to search for her fiancé's sister, Kitty, who moved to Hollywood for a movie career and has disappeared. Kitty's boardinghouse roommates think she's gone off with a fellow actor, but her body is soon discovered in a ravine under the Hollywood sign. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the local police investigation, Lily sets off on her own to find Kitty's killer. In the process, she encounters movie moguls, actors, geeky special-effects wizards, mobsters, ambulance-chasing photographers, and a certain homicide detective whose advances are pleasantly unsettling. The atmosphere of postwar Hollywood and Hamilton's edgy noir style are spot-on. Her reputation for Chandleresque dialog and impeccable historical detail is strongly supported in this highly readable and entertaining story. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections.
—Susan Clifford Braun

From the Publisher
"One great ride into classic L.A. noir. Smart, passionate, and filled with heart." — Robert Ferrigno

"Hamilton captures Los Angeles in a way that's comparable to the skills of Michael Connelly and Robert Crais." — South Florida Sun-Sentinel

"So much freshness and sass...comparisons with Raymond Chandler aren't too far out of line." — Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Nobody can do multicultural Los Angeles better than Denise Hamilton." — The Denver Post

"...an engaging heroine and a cast of quirky supporting characters who seem to have walked off the set of Sunset Boulevard." — Booklist

"Her reputation for Chandleresque dialog and impeccable historical detail is strongly supported in this highly readable and entertaining story." — Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781223004617
  • Publisher: World Publications, Inc. MA
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Sales rank: 1,485,721

Meet the Author

Denise Hamilton is a writer-journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times and is the author of five acclaimed Eve Diamond crime novels, Prisoner of Memory, Savage Garden, Last Lullaby, Sugar Skull, and The Jasmine Trade, all of which have been Los Angeles Times bestsellers. She is also the editor of and a contributor to the short story anthology Los Angeles Noir, winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Mystery of 2007. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. Visit her at www.denisehamilton.com.

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Read an Excerpt

The Last Embrace
By Denise Hamilton
Scribner Copyright © 2008 Denise Hamilton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416584933



CHAPTER 1

Hollywood -- October 7, 1949

It felt like she'd been running for days. With each step, a searing pain shot through her ankle. Her pace was jagged and she wanted to bend down and shuck off the other shoe, but there was no time, he was closing in, his breathing heavy and excited.

She'd screamed when the man lunged out from between storefronts. The street was well lit, that's why she'd taken this route home. Just a bunch of tidy little shops, the occasional night owl walking a dog.

But the shopkeepers had already locked up and no one was out tonight. He'd grabbed her, and she'd wobbled and twisted her heel. His fingers had slid off her padded shoulder.

Staggering free, she'd balanced on her good foot and kicked. The strap broke as her shoe flew through the air and connected with his groin. The man doubled over with a grunt.

Then time had slowed to one of those black-and-white movie stills she plastered on her bedroom walls. She'd felt herself floating above her body, seeing everything from a great distance. Her attacker staggering, clutching himself while she wobbled on one heel, torn between shrieking and sprinting away. In the way of nightmares, she could only do one.

The man had straightened, an acrid, black-rubber smell rising from him. Then instinct had kicked in and she'd started running.

She had to get back to the Boulevard. It was late, but there might be someone on the sidewalk, cars on the road.Laughter and jazz drifting out of supper clubs. While here there was only the wind roaring in her ears.

A hand reached for her arm. She twisted and her jacket tore, buttons of carved bone popping along her front. She swung her purse, heard a satisfying crack, felt droplets splatter her cheeks.

The Boulevard was closer now, but her ankle throbbed and weakened with every step. A car horn shattered the silence and suddenly she was there, the headlights and neon dancing behind her eyes. If she dashed into the street, a car might hit her. She turned, skittering over the embedded sidewalk stars. The man put on a burst of speed and made a last desperate swipe, his fingers sliding through her hair.

"Help!" she screamed, spying two well-dressed men in a twilit doorway.

Startled, they moved apart. The red neon sign above their heads read THE CROW'S NEST.

"Help, oh God, help me."

"Sirs, please!" came a man's voice behind her. "It's my wife. She's been drinking again...must get her safely home."

The voice dropped, grew wheedling and reproachful. "Come back, dearest. You know no one's going to hurt you."

"He's not my husband," she screamed. "Oh, someone, please help me!"

The men in front of the Crow's Nest slunk away and disappeared. She ran to the door and yanked, but it was locked. From inside, she heard music and laughter. She pounded, crying "Help!" but took off running as the slap of feet drew near.

Up ahead, a car slowed for a red light.

"Wassamatter, miss?" called a voice from the open window.

It was a black Studebaker, the driver leaning over, holding something aloft that reflected off the streetlight.

A shout went up behind her. "Sir! Grab her, please. She's not well."

The man in the car cruised alongside. He was alone. Without thinking further, she reached for the door handle and hauled herself into the backseat, slamming home the lock.

Ahead, the light turned green. With a screech of tires, the car took off. Braced against the leather upholstery, she tried to catch her breath. The car's backseat was bigger than the Murphy bed in her apartment.

"Oh, thank you."

In the gloom of the car, she saw only the outline of her rescuer's head. The streetlights flickered past, making a jerky magic lantern inside the car. She saw a hat, checked jacket, square-cut jaw. Smelled cigars and leather.

"Well, well," the man said, "Do you always tumble so spontaneously into strangers' cars?"

She gave a wet hiccuping cry. Her ankle was swelling and throbbing in excruciating rhythm with her heart.

"A m-man chased me down the street," she stammered. "He wanted to..." -- she squirmed at the memory -- "to do me harm."

The man's voice cut across the music on the car radio. "Good thing I came along."

"Who are you?"

He tossed back the thing he'd flashed from the car. She caught it, ran her thumb along the embossed surface. A badge. Was it real, or a studio prop? Its very curves, the cold metal in her hand, unnerved her.

He passed back a silver flask. "Calm your nerves."

His hand was large. A man's ring, set with a stone and a crest, adorned his middle finger.

She took a slug, confused about how close she'd come to being killed. No young woman in Los Angeles could forget Betty Short's murder two years earlier. The one the press had nicknamed the Black Dahlia. For every girl who'd ever walked home to an empty apartment, accepted a date with a man she didn't know well, waited at a bus stop after dark, the fear still lurked, stronger at times, dimmer at others, but always the same refrain: It could have been me. It could have been so many young women I know. And they never did catch him.

She had her own reasons to be wary.

"You're some kind of detective," she said, putting together the badge, the unmarked car, the plainclothes. She still hadn't gotten a good look at his face. "You should arrest that animal before he attacks another girl."

The man snorted. "You've just blown my stakeout sky-high. I should blow my cover too?"

"That's what cops do, isn't it?" she said thickly. If they were honest. If they listened to what a gal told them and did their job. "That man would have killed me. I could tell."

He appraised her in the rearview, in that clinical way cops did. There was something about his eyes, she wondered where she'd seen him before. On the studio lot? At a nightclub? The Hollywood Police Station?

Self-conscious, she scrubbed at her cheeks. Glancing down, she saw the popped buttons and covered herself. She felt queasy, but she could handle it, only a few more days.

"...a damsel in distress," the driver was saying. "Aren't I lucky."

There was a gloating, hungry tone to his voice.

The big car turned smoothly to the right. She felt suddenly that she was on a tilt-a-wheel and wanted to get off.

"If you could drop me at the nearest police station, I'd appreciate it," she said. "Hollywood. Is that where you're based?"

"No."

She angled the badge, trying to read it, but the streetlamps did not cooperate.

"Then what are you doing here? I intend to make a full report, you know."

"Do you really think that's wise?"

Alarmed, she scooted over on the plush leather, snicked up the lock button.

"Oh, all right, police station it is," the driver said, his voice mocking. "I hate to disappoint a pretty girl."

Instead the car turned again, pulled to the curb, and stopped.

The man slung his arm across the seat and turned. For the first time, she saw his fleshy, handsome face. Again, it triggered some memory.

"Why are we stopping?" she asked, her hand sliding to the door handle.

Her senses thrummed with distrust. But after all, he had rescued her.

The man held up an empty pack of cigarettes. "I'm all out of smokes," he said, crumpling the paper in his big hand.

She scanned for a newsstand or a liquor store but saw only dark, shuttered buildings, a restaurant at the far end of the block with taxis lined up.

She looked back at the driver, not liking the look that was spreading like a grease stain over his face. Her fingers tightened around the handle, about to fling it wide. And then she must have done so, because the door swung out. As she steeled her body to flee again, a figure loomed outside and she smelled the acrid odor of black rubber.

The man climbed in, shoving her across the length of the backseat. She hit the far door and began groping blindly for the handle.

"Sorry about that," the newcomer said. "The little minx isn't getting away this time."

There. She'd found it. She pressed with all her weight and the door flew open. She tumbled from the moving car, ready to hit the ground and run again. "Help!" she screamed into the night. "Save me!"Copyright © 2008 by Denise Hamilton

Continues...


Excerpted from The Last Embrace by Denise Hamilton Copyright © 2008 by Denise Hamilton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Introduction

When Lily Kessler, a spy for the OSS, returns from Europe to the United States she learns that her late fiancé's younger sister, Kitty has gone missing from her Hollywood boarding house. Lily heads to L.A. to put her investigative skills to good use. When Kitty's corpse turns up under the Hollywood sign, Lily sets out to unravel the mystery of the young starlet's disappearance and brutal murder.

Along the way Lily will meet Kitty's former friends and housemates, her admirers and coworkers, along with gangsters and members of L.A.'s seedy underbelly. Teaming up with a well-meaning news photographer and a handsome detective, Lily slowly uncovers the details of Kitty's life leading up to her tragic, untimely death in her adopted city of angels.

1- Throughout the course of the book Lily, Harry, and Pico each take a serious interest in finding Kitty's killer and bringing him to justice. What motivates each character in his or her quest? What do each of these characters have riding on the investigation? Who is depending on them?

2- Though Kitty is the character whose life and death propels the action in the story, she is only actually a character in the first few moments of the narrative. By what means do we, along with Lily, fill in the blanks of Kitty's life in Hollywood? How did you, as a reader, decide which sources were trustworthy, and which warranted closer inspection?

3- How did actual, historical events and figures referred to in the novel help you relate to the characters and contextualize the story?

4- For many women, World War II opened doors professionally and personally that had only been open to men before the war; for many the barriers went back up when thewar ended. Of this Lily says, "We're not helpless simpering creatures that have to be protected. We've held down jobs, traveled the world. Seen people die. Nobody's innocent anymore" (Page 67). In what ways has Lily's gender role been affected by the time she spent in Europe? Do any of the other female characters in the book strike you as feminist? How do you think they were affected by the war experience?

5- The narrator often refers to smells to help describe scenes and characters in the novel. The killer smells of black rubber; Kitty's room smelled like "newsprint, cigarettes, talc, and stale perfume" (Page 24). Why do you think Denise Hamilton took pains to include such vivid descriptions of scent? How is scent tied to memory?

6- Though the narrator throughout the book remains third person, the point of view shifts among many of the characters, and the narrator is never completely omniscient. How did this affect your reading of the story? Did you think this lent the narrative further mystery? Was it helpful to see the story from several standpoints?

7- Like every good mystery writer, Hamilton sets up circumstances that would support the reader being suspicious of just about anyone. Which leads did you find most compelling? Who did you think had the most motivation to kill Kitty? How did your suspicions change when more girls turned up dead under the Hollywood sign?

8- On page 197 Pico thinks of Lily as, "Feminine. And yet so hard. Like a steel blade wrapped in crushed velvet." How is this metaphor suited to Lily? How does she use her OSS skills to help solve Kitty's murder? Can you think of an apt metaphor for any other characters in the story?

9- When Pico and Lily are first getting to know one another he says, "Maybe home's not a physical place, but something we make in our heart and carry around with us" (Pg 165). Do you think that this applies to Lily? What become "home" for others in the novel? In what ways do Pico and Lily come to represent home for each other?

10. Hamilton takes us behind the scenes of Hollywood's Golden Age, exploring the secretive world of stop-motion animation and its technical whizzes. How did Max Vranizan's obsessions and eccentricities make him both a genius and a legitimate suspect in Kitty Hayden's murder? What did you learn about Hollywood special effects and its practitioners?

Enhancing your book club:

1- Research some of the historical figures that Denise Hamilton refers to in The Last Embrace:
Pio Pico: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pío_Pico
The Black Dahlia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Short and http://1947project.com/
Ray Bradbury: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Bradbury
Benny Siegel and Mickey Cohen: http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/mob_bosses/siegel/index_1.html
Ray Harryhausen - http://www.rayharryhausen.com/

2- The Last Embrace recalls Noir films popular in the 1930s and 40s. If you enjoyed this novel, why not watch a DVD of a noir classic?
Some noir favorites include:
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Big Sleep
Double Indemnity
L.A. Confidential
In A Lonely Place
Out of The Past

A site where you can explore film noir is www.noircity.com

3- Listen to some of the music that was popular during 1949, the year when The Last Embrace is set. * indicates a song mentioned in the novel.

"Again" sung by Vic Damone

* "Baby It's Cold Outside" sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban

"Autumn in New York" sung by Frank Sinatra

"It All Depends on You" sung by Frank Sinatra

"Some Enchanted Evening" sung by Frank Sinatra

"Careless Hands" performed by Sammy Kaye and his orchestra

* "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" sung by Carol Channing

"Far Away Places" performed by Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Choir

"Forever and Ever" sung by Perry Como

"I Can Dream, Can't I?" by performed by Patty Andrews with Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra

* "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" performed by Les Brown and his Orchestra

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Reading Group Guide

When Lily Kessler, a spy for the OSS, returns from Europe to the United States she learns that her late fiancé's younger sister, Kitty has gone missing from her Hollywood boarding house. Lily heads to L.A. to put her investigative skills to good use. When Kitty's corpse turns up under the Hollywood sign, Lily sets out to unravel the mystery of the young starlet's disappearance and brutal murder.

Along the way Lily will meet Kitty's former friends and housemates, her admirers and coworkers, along with gangsters and members of L.A.'s seedy underbelly. Teaming up with a well-meaning news photographer and a handsome detective, Lily slowly uncovers the details of Kitty's life leading up to her tragic, untimely death in her adopted city of angels.

1- Throughout the course of the book Lily, Harry, and Pico each take a serious interest in finding Kitty's killer and bringing him to justice. What motivates each character in his or her quest? What do each of these characters have riding on the investigation? Who is depending on them?

2- Though Kitty is the character whose life and death propels the action in the story, she is only actually a character in the first few moments of the narrative. By what means do we, along with Lily, fill in the blanks of Kitty's life in Hollywood? How did you, as a reader, decide which sources were trustworthy, and which warranted closer inspection?

3- How did actual, historical events and figures referred to in the novel help you relate to the characters and contextualize the story?

4- For many women, World War II opened doors professionally and personally that had only been open to men before the war; for many the barriers went back up when the war ended. Of this Lily says, "We're not helpless simpering creatures that have to be protected. We've held down jobs, traveled the world. Seen people die. Nobody's innocent anymore" (Page 67). In what ways has Lily's gender role been affected by the time she spent in Europe? Do any of the other female characters in the book strike you as feminist? How do you think they were affected by the war experience?

5- The narrator often refers to smells to help describe scenes and characters in the novel. The killer smells of black rubber; Kitty's room smelled like "newsprint, cigarettes, talc, and stale perfume" (Page 24). Why do you think Denise Hamilton took pains to include such vivid descriptions of scent? How is scent tied to memory?

6- Though the narrator throughout the book remains third person, the point of view shifts among many of the characters, and the narrator is never completely omniscient. How did this affect your reading of the story? Did you think this lent the narrative further mystery? Was it helpful to see the story from several standpoints?

7- Like every good mystery writer, Hamilton sets up circumstances that would support the reader being suspicious of just about anyone. Which leads did you find most compelling? Who did you think had the most motivation to kill Kitty? How did your suspicions change when more girls turned up dead under the Hollywood sign?

8- On page 197 Pico thinks of Lily as, "Feminine. And yet so hard. Like a steel blade wrapped in crushed velvet." How is this metaphor suited to Lily? How does she use her OSS skills to help solve Kitty's murder? Can you think of an apt metaphor for any other characters in the story?

9- When Pico and Lily are first getting to know one another he says, "Maybe home's not a physical place, but something we make in our heart and carry around with us" (Pg 165). Do you think that this applies to Lily? What become "home" for others in the novel? In what ways do Pico and Lily come to represent home for each other?

10. Hamilton takes us behind the scenes of Hollywood's Golden Age, exploring the secretive world of stop-motion animation and its technical whizzes. How did Max Vranizan's obsessions and eccentricities make him both a genius and a legitimate suspect in Kitty Hayden's murder? What did you learn about Hollywood special effects and its practitioners?

Enhancing your book club:

1- Research some of the historical figures that Denise Hamilton refers to in The Last Embrace:
Pio Pico: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pío_Pico The Black Dahlia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Short and http://1947project.com/
Ray Bradbury: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Bradbury Benny Siegel and Mickey Cohen: http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/mob_bosses/siegel/index_1.html Ray Harryhausen - http://www.rayharryhausen.com/

2- The Last Embrace recalls Noir films popular in the 1930s and 40s. If you enjoyed this novel, why not watch a DVD of a noir classic?
Some noir favorites include:
The Postman Always Rings Twice The Big Sleep Double Indemnity L.A. Confidential In A Lonely Place Out of The Past

A site where you can explore film noir is www.noircity.com

3- Listen to some of the music that was popular during 1949, the year when The Last Embrace is set.

• indicates a song mentioned in the novel.

"Again" sung by Vic Damone

• "Baby It's Cold Outside" sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban

"Autumn in New York" sung by Frank Sinatra

"It All Depends on You" sung by Frank Sinatra

"Some Enchanted Evening" sung by Frank Sinatra

"Careless Hands" performed by Sammy Kaye and his orchestra

• "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" sung by Carol Channing

"Far Away Places" performed by Bing Crosby with the Ken Darby Choir

"Forever and Ever" sung by Perry Como

"I Can Dream, Can't I?" by performed by Patty Andrews with Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra

• "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" performed by Les Brown and his Orchestra

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 15, 2010

    Hopefully not the last to come from Denise Hamilton

    For my english class, we had to read The Last Embrace. My teacher said the book summed up all of what we learned in Noir Lit in one book. She was right. The adventure the reader goes on trying to figure out who killed Kitty, the sister to the narrator's dead fiance is filled with all the twists and turns of any typical Noir book. While reading the book I found myself to be rooting for Lily and found my heart to be racing as much as if I were in the book myself. It is a page turner that you will find yourself unable to put down until you have read the very last word.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    This engaging Hollywood historical mystery is fun to follow

    In 1949 Hollywood, former OSS agent Lily Kessler searches for actress Kitty Hayden, the sister of her late fiancé, US Army Major Joseph Croggan. As she travels by train to California Lily thinks of Joseph, whom she met and fell in love in London during the war as they battled spies together until he died eight months ago in a Budapest car accident. Lily is worried about Kitty who vanished while seeking either rich sugar daddies or men with influence who give her parts.--------------- After taking a room in Kitty's dumpy boarding house, Lily learns Kitty has been murdered conjuring up the notorious Black Dahlia homicide. Unable to resist as she feels she owes her late fiancé for failing his sister, Kitty investigate the homicide. The case and police corruption lead her to Police Detective Stephen Pico, who pleads with her to let it go. In spite of her attraction to the cop, Lily continues her inquiries though her efforts could lead to her to joining Kitty.------------- This engaging Hollywood historical mystery is fun to follow due to the antics of the fully developed heroine and the cop who adores her and tries to prevent her from getting killed. The support cast is a bit flat, but the audience will not care as Lily is the star of this look at the film industry between WWII and Korea inside of a well written whodunit.--------------- Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted April 30, 2012

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