I just finished Ed Ifkovic's Make Believe, a murder mystery set in 1951 Hollywood and part of his Edna Ferber Mystery series. The book was sent to me by another mystery writer, friend, and former colleague at CCSU, Carole Shmurak, because of my interest in two of the real-life characters in Make Believe, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra.
And, let me say, Mr. Ifkovic's depictions of the two stars, both individually and as a problematic couple, work very well. He captures the tabloid-hot-copy nature of their relationship on the verge of their marriage on 7 November 1951 but still manages to create well-rounded characters that the reader can care about.
The nature of a mystery novel makes writing a review difficult since the reviewer doesn't want to give anything away, so I won't say anything more than the plot nicely interweaves a murder or two; the impending release of MGM's Show Boat, the musical based upon the novel by Edna Ferber (the sleuth of Ifkovic's series) and starring Gardner, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Joe E. Brown, and William Warfield; the Ava/Frank relationship; and the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The various strands of the plot make for several viable suspects, of course, and offers a peak into the star-making machinery of Hollywood's heyday.
That said, the book starts off more slowly than is best, I think, although the last half really kicks into high gear as Ms. Ferber, away from her familiar NYC haunts, gains her balance amongst the West Coast backstabbers and makes it clear that this older woman, who's usually the smartest one in whatever room she walks, won't be taking any guff from anyone. For Ferber offers Ifkovic a fine and credible crime-solver: successful enough in show business to give her access and talented enough in wordsmithing to be witty in both the moment and upon reflection.
If you like the mystery genre, or old Hollywood, or Show Boat, or Frank and/or Ava, or Edna Ferber, you'll enjoy this book. It may not change your opinions about any of these characters, but it'll certainly make you long for the days when the stars were big -- before "the pictures got small."