Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of Keystone by Peter Lovesey (Sphere, 2013; orig pub 1983)

1916 and having worked his way across America to California with his hammy vaudeville act, Warwick Easton decides to audition for a movie career.  He’s hoping for character parts, but the only thing on offer is a role as part of the Keystone Cops.  Given their capers and stunts it’s a dangerous occupation, as the death of one of the cops demonstrates when a stunt goes wrong leaving him dead.  Easton's plan is to build up enough funds then head back to England to join the war, but then he meets and befriends Amber Honeybee, an attractive and ambitious actress.  Despite her obvious lack of talent, Amber jumps from bit parts to leading lady and shortly after her mother is found dead in suspicious circumstances.  Easton is quick to defend her from gossip and accusations, but soon ends up being beaten and his apartment ransacked.  His solution is to turn from Keystone Cop to cop, seeking to exonerate Amber, despite his suspicions that she’s guilty of something, and ensnare whoever seems hell bent on their demise, regardless of how powerful or famous they might be.

Keystone is a historical crime story set in Los Angeles in 1916, specifically focusing on the Keystone Studio.  Whilst firmly a piece of fiction it includes a number of real-life characters including the studio owner, Mack Sennett, and actors Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, Harry Gribbon, Mack Swain, and a number of the Keystone Cops.  The two lead fictional characters are Warwick Easton and Amber Honeybee, neither of whom are particularly likeable: Easton being solemn, defensive, snooty, and standoffish; Amber, overly ambitious, lacking in talent, devious and opportunist, and stubborn.  Easton is smitten, but the relationship is mostly platonic, with him trailing round after and defending her.  The tale unfolds at nice pace, the prose is light and breezy, and the plot is interesting without being captivating.  I had a good idea as to the culprits, though not the reason why events were unfolding as they were.  Overall, a good setting and idea, and it help pass a few hours pleasantly enough.

No comments: