It’s Hollywood in the early 1950s. Paige Turner is queen of the gossip heap, using her column to push her grudges. She’s aware of her power and wields it whenever possible, demanding the trappings of respect and declaring how people may and may not speak to her. She’s convinced beyond doubt of her own righteousness and takes people kowtowing to her as her due.
She claims her bigoted pronouncements are all for her audience, who wish to know about indecency so they may punish the participants. Actually, she’s preaching morality while supplying salacious material to pander to readers’ prurient interest. A failed actress, she makes deals over what she’ll cover and abuses her secretary Betty, who does a great job anticipating her desires but only gets yelled at for her efforts.
The other gossip hound in Scandalous is Harry Richards, a private investigator trying to be ethical in an industry built on exploding other people’s secrets. He works for the tabloid rag Innuendo, hunting through trash to find items for them, but he really wants to write for the pulp detective magazines.
It’s the time of the Red scare, with a thinly disguised Lucille Ball afraid of being declared Communist. Lives can easily be ruined through insinuation, and Harry’s friend Chaz, a casting director, is one of those under the microscope. He’s the one that supplies a great description of Paige: “She’s just doing her job. Which is making wild accusations about some people while hiding the truth about others. Basically boosting her friends’ careers at the expense of others.”
The characters are as well-drawn by Scott Chantler as they are established by J. Torres. They look like they’ve stepped out of a classic cartoon, with dot-pupil eyes with wedges cut out. Chantler provides wonderfully detailed settings and backgrounds to set the stage of a glamourous world built on secret upon secret. Scenes are intercut to gradually reveal connections between characters as we jump from conversation to phone call and back again.
It’s hard to tell if the writer leans towards the gossip industry being good or bad, necessary or irrelevant. It’s a tough question. Just when it seems that it’s a terrible effort that destroys everyone it touches, other characters use the press to expose hypocrisy and get back at those abusing their power. The impression I was left with was of a bunch of leeches fighting to be top leech, even if some of them had good intentions.
Days Like This is the team’s previous book, about the rise of a 60s girl group and the pop music industry of that era. Scott Chantler has also created Northwest Passage, an historical adventure set in frontier Canada, and J. Torres has also written, among others, The Complete Copybook Tales, a wonderful semi-autobiography of growing up as a comic fan.