The Monet Murders
I had high hopes for The Monet Murders, since it’s a murder mystery set in 1934 Hollywood, but the book by Terry Mort is disappointing.
For one thing, there are no real-life characters involved, even tangentially. All the characters are made-up types: the Jewish producer, several gorgeous starlets, a loutish actor, some drunken writers… although one of those is implied to be F. Scott Fitzgerald under a different name. Which feels like wimping out. This kind of novel doesn’t work well playing coy. Then again, it might be self-justification for the many Gatsby references.
For another thing, the writing and events are such that the book could have taken place in modern day. Mort does a bad job of capturing the feel of the period, providing not enough of a sense of the time and place. He’s more interested in mentioning to us, multiple times, how the many beautiful women his private eye hero gets involved with don’t wear underwear. The book is repetitive in this and many other ways, telling us (in words that keep spilling out long after they should have been edited) things we’ve already been made aware of more than once. There’s lots of monologue, but not much actually happening.
The plot involves a broken-hearted producer who’s found an aspiring actress who happens to look JUST like his dead ex. (Why? Don’t know. Never explained. Huge coincidence, I guess.) The girl dumped him because he didn’t spend enough money on her and took up with a gangster running a gambling ship. Then there’s the woman cuckolding her husband, who owns the expensive painting of the title, and who’s found shot to death with her lover. It’s all kind of connected, but not well. Mostly, it gives the fantasy man narrating all this chances to spill his thoughts on the fakeness of Hollywood and wonder to himself which of three gorgeous women he should sleep with next. (He refers to them as “bed partners”, which sounded leaden to my ear.) The men are two-dimensional stereotypes; the women, judged only by looks.
The ending is unsatisfactory, not wrapping up all the loose ends and again relying on implication instead of clear communication. The publicity is trying to describe this as both “noir” and “cozy”, demonstrating a wildly mistaken understanding of what the latter means to mystery fans. It’s neither; I found it mostly a waste of time. (The publisher provided a review copy.)