- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Look around; everywhere you turn is heartache. It's everywhere that you go. You try everything you can to escape.
.the sordidness of 1950s Hollywood, with its goat-cults of Osiris, washed-up monster movie actors, gangsters bent on burying you in the middle of the desert, and sinister Joan Crawford impersonators running around screaming "Bloody knife! Bloody knife!"
If all else fails and you long to be something better than you are today, I know a place where you can get away, it's called...
The Joan Crawford Murders (Book Two of the Tinseltown Trilogy) by Peter Joseph Swanson. If you grew up in the '80s like I did, your first impression of Joan Crawford may have come from Faye Dunaway's portrayal of her in Mommy Dearest. No doubt it scared you off of wire hangers for life. Joan Crawford, who died the year I was born, was actually a fascinating woman with a long and celebrated stage, screen and television career. Her name at birth was Lucille LeSeuer. Louis B. Mayer (studio head of MGM) made her change it because it sounded too much like "sewer." His first choice was "Joan Arden," but that name was already taken, so she became Joan Crawford, a name she always thought sounded uncomfortably close to "crawfish."
Peter Joseph Swanson has fun playing with the biographical details of Joan's life in his novel. She was born in Texas, and she did try like the devil to remove any trace of Southwest twang from her speaking voice. William Haines was her closest friend, and he did give her the nickname "Cranberry" (a play on "crawfish," saying she ought to be serving at Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cranberry sauce).
You don't have to know Joan Crawford's real-life history to enjoy this book, though. Peter brings her to the page as a larger-than-life character, a Hollywood star with all a star's excesses and passions who half believes some of her movies were real. She thunders through the pages in faux diamonds and real furs with a gun in her handgun, ripping lesser starlets (in Joan's opinion, everyone but herself) like Esther Williams and Marilyn Monroe to shreds with her letter-opener-sharp words. But a star of Joan's caliber wouldn't literally rip a starlet (or a drag queen) to shreds, would she? In her vodka- and diet pill-induced fog, Joan doesn't even trust herself anymore.
Read carefully, or you may miss some of Peter's clever one-liners. Despite all the grisly murders and shady Hollywood backroom dealings, this book is fun, fun, fun. There's even a splash of sex here and there, though of course observed through the warped lens of Peter's offbeat literary style. Whether you love mysteries and crime novels, Old School Hollywood, or both, this book promises to be like nothing you've ever read before.
Posted April 8, 2009
Peter Joseph Swanson has a knack for informing and making you think, as well as entertaining. I know so little of Hollywood that I had to look up whether "Torch Song" was a real movie after reading "The Joan Crawford Murders." (It was.) But I didn't bother to look up how movies were made, the twists and turns of costumes and scenery, and the wonders of moving backdrops in glorious Technicolor. The author had convinced me already that his portrayals would be true. I haven't looked up the club scene of the Joan Crawford drag-queen look-alikes either, but I feel like I've been there, like a fly on the wall, or a sequin camera fastened to one of Joan Crawford's incredible outfits.
IMDB tells me how over-the-top the acting in "Torch Song" was. And the author paints an over-the-top artiste and her world with Technicolor words and dialog, bringing the whole to life (or death, I guess, in the case of the murdered victims). Viewed through the lens of vodka, diet pills, and a desperate need to stay on top, "The Joan Crawford Murders" creates an utterly convincing, amazing, amusing and totally entertaining world. And then you wonder, if that world was never entirely real, then how come it reminds me so much of here?