Alive! (Valentino Mysteries)
by Loren D. Estleman
Cover Artist: Michael Koelsch
Review by Mel Jacob
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765333315
Date: 02 April 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
When close friend and has-been actor Craig Hunter calls film archivist Valentino, the archivist refuses to answer the call. Later, Hunter is found beaten to death in a San Diego restaurant with two broken arms, the trademark of a well-known mob member. Determined to find the murderer, Valentino stumbles onto the trail of a lost screen test by Bela Lugosi for Frankenstein, the role later played by Boris Karloff. It is a piece of movie history for which someone committed murder.
Valentino, he goes by his last name, is also an amateur sleuth. Guilt for not responding to Hunter's call drives him to find the killers and learn why they killed his friend. He discovers a suitcase Hunter left with his ex-wife Laura filled with books about Frankenstein, Karloff, and Lugosi. One mentions Lugosi's abortive screen test. He is reputed to have turned down the Frankenstein role because it was non-speaking, but the books indicate the screen test sealed his fate. The filmed test was reported destroyed, but, if a copy existed, it would be worth a tidy sum to collectors.
Valentino has a not so friendly rivalry with the agent of one collector. His rival, Teddie Goodman, works for a very rich collector with deep pockets. They often compete against one another for the same objects whether film, memorabilia, or other items related to the movie industry.
A welcome addition is Valentino's student assistant, Jason Stickley, who is into Steampunk and provides surprising help at critical junctures. Valentino also relies on the advice and memory of his friend, Kyle Broadhead. Complications come from Harriet, Valentino's lover, who is away, and they are at odds over their relationship.
As Valentino hunts for clues, he disturbs some people, including a big time lawyer, several film collectors, and a reputed mob boss. He is roughed up by a couple of thugs and warned to stop his efforts to find the killer and the film. Worse, apparently they or someone like them, came upon Teddie searching his apartment for clues to what he was doing and pushed her down the stairs injuring her badly. Her boss offers Valentino a job and a deal for the missing film, but Valentino turns him down reminding him he works for UCLA.
Some of the stories about Hollywood and movie people verge on all the old stereotypes. Estleman is a prolific author of mysteries and Westerns. Alive! is his third Valentino mystery. He provides a bibliography, filmography, and author notes for those who want to know more.