1920s script girl Jessie Beckett investigates the murder of a movie projectionist in this absorbing historical mystery.
“Joe Petrovitch was gunned down on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early October, during the ninth reel of Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush.”
Employed by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Jessie Beckett has a busy time as Script Girl for Pickford-Fairbanks studios. Yet she also has a reputation as a skilled amateur sleuth. So when a projectionist is shot dead and his grieving widow asks Jessie if she can find out who killed him, Jessie is determined to find the killer and his motive. But who was the mysterious man in the red coat who fired three shots at Joe Petrovitch? And how could he enter and leave a crowded theatre without being noticed? To find the answers, Jessie must delve into the dead man’s past and uncover dark secrets from another continent and another era. As she is to discover, the past has a long reach...
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Death visited Hollywood about as often as it did the rest of the country. Children were carried off by polio; grandparents gave way to old age; and the influenza came shopping for victims with sad predictability. But murder? Murder dropped by a little more frequently here than it did other places.
Joe Petrovitch was murdered on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early October during the ninth reel of Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, gunned down in the projection booth of the theatre where he worked. His young assistant witnessed the crime close up, although shock muddled the story he gave the cops afterward. I had never met Joe Petrovitch, but I attended his funeral on Wednesday at Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery because his wife Barbara worked as a hairdresser at Pickford-Fairbanks Studio where I’ve been an assistant Script Girl for nearly a year.
“I don’t know Barbara very well,” I whispered to Mildred Young, my friend in Makeup who was standing beside me in the shade of an oak tree as we waited for mourners to gather at the gravesite. I scanned the crowd. “Does she have any kids?”
Mildred had been hired at the studio just a few months ago, but Makeup and Hair Styling worked hand in glove, so she knew Barbara Petrovitch better than I did. She shook her head. “No children, but she has a few relatives who will help her through this. That’s her sister, over there, in the dark purple suit and sunglasses. And that bruiser on her left is her brother.”
I studied both siblings, looking for family resemblances. The two sisters had the same sturdy build and thick ankles. Their brother was broad-shouldered and muscular, and carried himself with the self-confidence that comes from being bigger and stronger than everyone else. As Barbara soaked her handkerchief, her siblings maintained dry eyes and tight lips. The sister clutched a black handbag in one hand and a single white rose in the other. The brother looked over their heads toward the casket with hard, narrowed eyes that lacked any pretence of grief. Suddenly, as if he sensed my thoughts, he turned his head and met my gaze with hostile eyes. Embarrassed to be caught staring, I looked away.
“Did Joe have any family?” I murmured.
“I don’t think so,” said Mildred. “None that Barbara ever mentioned anyway. They’d only been married a few years. A late marriage for both, I believe.”
Near us stood our employers, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the greatest stars in motion pictures. Not only were they, along with Charlie Chaplin, the best-loved actors in the whole film world, they were the only three with the business savvy and gumption to start up their own studio when everyone said it couldn’t be done. A gust of warm wind lifted Miss Pickford’s black veil, revealing a glimpse of her famous flawless skin, but even with her face obscured, just about anyone would have recognized “America’s Sweetheart” from her honey-gold ringlets and diminutive size. She was several years older than I, but we were so close in height and weight that she’d asked me to stand in for her on more than one occasion. From the back, with my own coppery bob covered by a wig from Barbara Petrovitch’s cupboards, audiences could not tell us apart. Miss Pickford’s husband, the handsome “King of Hollywood” and my boss, turned toward Mildred and me, removed his sunglasses, and flashed us one of his famous grins.
“It was kind of them to give us the time off,” remarked Mildred.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just read Mary Miley’s MURDER IN DISGUISE and am wanting more, oh please may I have some more . . . Jessie Beckett is an admirable character, resourceful, compassionate, and dedicated to friends and justice, with just a bit of rule-bending when necessary. The writing flows, descriptions are lovely, and the plot has deliciously unexpected twists and insights. Avoiding spoilers limits details, and you will want to find your own, but here are some quotes and my reactions. “This investigation wouldn’t be dangerous.” (famous last words) “I didn’t appreciate being fired at the time, but now I’m glad it happened.” (true in my life) “Mrs. Reynolds was sweet in that vague, helpless way so many older women assume . . .” (hmm, I think I’d rather be feisty) “I was a working girl. I’d never NOT had a job in my life. What would I do with myself without a job?” (exactly why retirement takes some getting used to)
This series is fabulous. Mary Miley ALWAYS delivers stellar historical mysteries. She manages to add in so many period details without ever bogging down the story. Little things - like how much it cost to have a telephone, sending telegrams, and stores having "ready to wear" sections. Miley's main character Jessie is all-American street-wise sass, and she is the epitome of the independent woman. Raised on the Vaudeville Circuit and orphaned at an early age, Jessie has learned how to put on her stage face and tackle any challenge. But after finally putting down some roots with a job that doesn’t travel, and finding someone she can trust and rely on in David, Jessie’s world is upended when David is arrested on a string of charges including suspicion of murder and fraud. Jessie finds herself returning to her past as she takes the stand in David’s defense. For Jessie, the answer to any challenge can be found in Vaudeville rules. She approaches her testimony on David’s behalf as just another act, and carefully crafts her character to meet the task at hand. But it’s the role of a lifetime, as it may be David’s life that’s at stake. But just like Vaudeville, Jessie’s life is a juggling act – while playing her role as star witness, Jessie is also up to her not-so-everyday job of Girl Detective, solving the murder of a movie theater employee, a task that becomes bigger than she could have expected. Being a lawyer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the legal aspects of this book. I love seeing glimpses of the legal world of the Golden Age and how much things have changed. David’s attorney was the perfect stereotype – in a good way. Miley’s characters are always well-developed, and her plots perfectly paced. I highly recommend this series for any historical fiction fans, fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and anyone who loves a girl with grit.