Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book: Frames, by Loren D. Estleman (2008)

In January Loren D. Estleman published Gas City, a muscular tale of corruption in a fading Midwestern burg that’s my favorite book of the year so far. That would be enough for most people. But here he is back again, with a novel that’s completely different in tone but every bit as polished.

Valentino, the UCLA archivist who bills himself as a “film detective,” has appeared in several short stories. In his first book-length outing, Valentino is ready to settle down. Where else but in a movie theater? He buys the Oracle, a Hollywood picture palace otherwise destined for the wrecking ball. In the basement he makes a pair of startling discoveries. A human skeleton, bricked up for decades. And a complete copy of Erich von Stroheim’s infamous Greed, long thought to be lost forever. There’s only one way to keep the precious reels of film from becoming the property of the LAPD, and that’s to solve the murder himself.

It’s always strange to read a book that seems to have been conceived with you in mind. I am, need it be said, something of a film geek. My last post was about an Al Jolson movie, for crying out loud. So any novel featuring a character who praises the police by saying “there’s not a Barton MacLane or a Bill Demarest to be found” will go down easy. Factor in Estleman’s sparkling dialogue and evocative prose and I’m in heaven.

OK, I do have one complaint, but it’s not about the book. A few months back Estleman sponsored a trivia contest at his website to promote Frames. I didn’t win, and that’s fine. I never win. But Estleman says only one person answered all ten rather difficult questions correctly. I would argue that technically, I also went ten-for-ten. Still, I’m willing to forgive. That’s another thing I learned from the movies.

Speaking of Erich von Stroheim, I wrote about The Great Flamarion, in which he appeared as an actor, here. And speaking of film geeks ...

Comics: Two, Please

This week’s installment is below or here.