Monday, November 26, 2018

Murder at the Palace (A Movie Palace Mystery #1)

Author:  Margaret Dumas
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635114638; 9781635114632
Henery Press Publishing
266 Pages
$31.95; $15.95, $$4.99 Amazon
February 12, 2019


Welcome to the Palace movie theater!  Now Showing:  Philandering husbands, ghostly sidekicks, and a murder or two.

When Nora Paige's movie-star husband leaves her for his latest co-star, she flees Hollywood to take refuge in San Francisco at the Palace, an historic movie theater that shows the classic films she loves.  There she finds a band of misfit film buffs who care about movies (almost) as much as she does.

 She also finds some shady financial dealings and the body of a murdered stranger.

Oh, and then there's Trixie, the lively ghost of a 1930's usherette who appears only to Nora and has a lot to catch up on.  With the help of her new ghostly friend, can Nora catch the killer before there's another murder at the Palace?


First off, I'm going to state that I am a huge classic film fan.  There isn't one I haven't seen, I own thousands of them myself, hundreds of biographies of actors from silent film right through the Golden Age of Hollywood (including those on directors, producers, studios and genres).  I don't even watch newer films (aside from Christmas TV flicks) and haven't been to the theater in years.  They just don't compare in either quality nor acting.  (Oh, to have another Humphrey Bogart!)  In fact, when I first read the list that Kate had left behind - Win, M, Lace, Sorry, Gas - I knew exactly what it was and its meaning.  Therefore, I was able to piece everything together easily.

Having said that (as a heads up, of course) I was excited to read this book.  Anyone who's a classic film buff would feel the same as I do, if only to read the many references strewn about.  And trust me, there are many.

When Nora Paige's marriage implodes she finds herself at a loss.  What is the ex-wife of a famous actor to do, when her life has been centered on her husband?  As his unpaid manager and I-know-where-everything-is-and-what-to-do-about-that person, she's at odds and ends and feeling pretty sorry for herself.  Luckily, she has a best friend who knows exactly what to do:  She installs Nora as manager of her San Francisco classic movie theater, whose last manager, Kate, was killed in a tragic accident.

But while Nora is willing to take over, and most of the employees are fine with having her, the projectionist isn't.  Marty is a big guy who thinks he should have been manager, that because he loves the theater and knows more than anyone about classic film, he was the logical choice.  What Marty doesn't know is that Kate probably has a greater knowledge than him, and she's not letting on, which keeps him at arm's length.

But when Nora goes to get ice in the basement since their upstairs ice maker isn't working, she comes across something frozen that doesn't belong there: a body of a man.  When it appears that he died around the same time as Kate, Nora gets as suspicious as Marty that Kate's death might not have been an accident.  The dead man is identified as Raul Acosta, but his connection to Kate isn't apparent.  It's also apparent - at least to Nora and Marty - that this was no accident.  Then there actually is an accident - Nora, trying to fix a light fixture, gets hit by it instead and blacks out.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it) when she wakens, not only is she surrounded by employees, but by one she's never seen - a young woman in an usher's costume.

When the woman tells Nora her name is Trixie and that she's a ghost, Nora resists until she's given evidence that she can't refute, even if she still doesn't want to believe it.  Then a man shows up insisting that he was working on a film festival with Kate, Nora needs to figure out if he's telling the truth; Raul's brother shows up telling her he wants to find out who killed Raul, Kate's best friend Monica is definitely mysterious, and Nora is feeling overwhelmed.

But it's not long before being overwhelmed takes second place to feeling threatened, and Nora finds herself smack into the middle of a modern day real life murder mystery...and doesn't know if she'll survive long enough to figure it out.  If she doesn't get things right, and soon, she might be the next accident just waiting to happen...

I have to tell you that I absolutely loved this book.  I will also tell you - for those who aren't movie buffs - that there are a lot of film references, so you may find yourself heading to the nearest computer to look everything up (I do suggest watching the films, though; you'll enjoy yourself immensely and see what real films are).

The mystery is tight and the writing done well, the story line is plausible and the characters likable.  Marty was a hoot; even though he's anti-social, he loves the old theater and everything that comes with it, and you can tell that even though he's not happy he wasn't chosen manager, he's beginning to like Nora.

Nora is a solid character, and her personal insecurities make her a real person.  While I think (and hope) she'll grow a real backbone, she manages to keep her own within the story line, and that's important.  I do like Trixie; she gives just enough paranormal without going over the top, and seems a little unsure of herself every now and then.  The other characters fall into place exactly where they're supposed to, and the enigmatic Hector Acosta is quite an intriguing character who has more facets than a diamond.  I look forward to seeing more of him in future books.

There were plenty of red herrings in the story and it even seemed like a scavenger hunt at times, which made for part of the fun of it.  Weaving classic film plots with the search for the reason for Kate and Raul's death seemed not only natural, it was delightful to follow and made me almost wish I was right along with the rest of them, offering up my opinions on what everyone was looking for.

The only thing I didn't understand is why Nora didn't share with Marty the fact that she knew so much about classic film.  If she had, he might have seen a kindred soul in her, and it really didn't make sense that she didn't.  In the end, Kate's resolution of the problem was most ingenious indeed, and I loved every minute of it.  There was only one thing I didn't care for, and while I won't state what exactly it was as it is too much of a spoiler, (it's a personal peeve I have).  Anyway, aside from this, I can't state enough how much I was captivated by this book and hope to see more in the future.  Highly recommended.



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