Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's Alive - by Loren D. Estleman

Somehow I missed the Valentino series from Loren D. Estleman until browsing the other day and hitting on the latest book, Alive!

Happy to be aboard.

Valentino is a film archivist for UCLA, and he becomes embroiled in murder mysteries that swirl around lost films. We're talking things like Eric Von Stronheim's Greed or, happily, the lost screen test of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster in Alive!

The screen test is real and really lost, cleared away to make storage space in a time before its importance and value were recognized at Universal Studios. But Estleman imagines a world where the footage still exists, two reels shot with Lugosi hot off the success of 1931's Dracula and targeted for a role in the next big Universal monster movie. Of course the role went to Boris Karloff, but collectors and film fans would love to see what might have been, or what went wrong.

Estleman offers up an interesting blend of film history and fiction as Valentino races to find the lost footage after he realizes it's at the core of an old friend's murder.

His pal, a washed up star with addiction issues,  has come upon the footage, but criminal elements are involved. There's also a collector who's an homage to the late great punster and editor Forrest Ackerman of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Estleman's imagined a rich world of supporting characters for Valentino including an intern who's into Steampunk and a department secretary from hell plus a fun pair of San Diego detectives. They're fun for the reader, not so fun for Valentino. The bad cop of the duo is on bad cop overdrive.

There's a nice and fairly twisty mystery plot woven through the tale, and tension builds as Valentino strives to solve the case and keep the film footage from decaying in a police evidence room.

The tale's also a fabulous look into film preservation with even a few contemplations on Steampunk's importance. Van Helsing qualifies, and Valentino's intern and friends watch with the sound turned down for the enjoyment of the production design.

All in all, it's nice mystery read and great book to pick up if you're an aficionado of Universal Horrors.

Must check out the other tales in the series as well including a collection of short stories. 

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