Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ray's Reviews: Loren Estleman's Alive!

Dedicated movie fans can rejoice!

Award-winning author Loren Estleman has returned with “Alive!” (Forge, $24.99). It's the third novel in his highly entertaining series starring the hard-working UCLA film archivist known simply as Valentino.

Set in contemporary Hollywood, Estleman's tale again showcases the modern film detective as he attempts to locate lost footage.

This time he's seeking to recover the vintage screen test made by a famous actor to portray Frankenstein. But Valentino isn't looking for anything that features Boris Karloff, who made the role exceptionally famous.

Instead, his quest is for the actual long-missing screen test made by Bela Lugosi, revered for his cinematic appearance as Count Dracula.

Lugosi's screen test was indeed considered horrible, but not in the way the actor hoped; the film's future director ordered the reels destroyed.

Decades later Craig Hunter, a former friend of Valentino, has discovered that they still survive. He tries to contact Valentino with little avail.

Soon after, Hunter is discovered murdered in a seedy restaurant/bar – in a manner that points to a notorious gangster.

Valentino's quest for the truth gets him into deep trouble; his relationship with his girlfriend, the beautiful LAPD Forensic Pathologist Harriet Johanson, suffers.

He's still trying to restore “The Oracle”, a vintage theater, and he faces more challenges as additional mayhem occurs.

Valentino sets up a meeting with an aging but knowledgeable magazine publisher who wants to buy the footage. This character is loosely but accurately based on the late Hollywood horror flick historian/icon, Forrest J. Ackerman.

The dedicated film detective gets help from Jason, his steampunk-loving assistant, whose friends later prove to be a useful asset.

This book has a great cover that should get a lot of attention; it's an unusual, quirky, enjoyable crime novel that easily leaves room for a sequel.

Estleman, who  lives in Whitmore Lake, always does his homework when researching his novels. Die-hard film fans will find useful information in the excellent bibliography and filmography sections. 

The first two books in the series, “Frames” and “Alone”, are now in paperback. Grabbing them first may help the reader understand and appreciate the Valentino's character and the problems of film restoration, but it is not essential.

Estleman adds an interesting touch by including two characters from books in “The Antiques Lovers” mystery series, written by his wife, Deborah Morgan.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.

Find books by great local authors (and more!)
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
This review was published by the Lansing State Journal on May 19, 2013.

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