Bit Player: A Jeri Howard Mystery

Written by Janet Dawson
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Browsing through a Hollywood memorabilia shop, private investigator Jeri Howard chats with an elderly man about her grandmother, Jerusha Layne, who worked as a bit player for several movie studios in the 1940s. The man recognizes her grandmother’s name in connection with the unsolved murder of actor Ralph Tarrant. Surprised by this information, Jeri begins investigating her grandmother’s years in Hollywood.

As Jeri reads letters written by her grandmother, we are taken back to pre-World War II Hollywood, meeting Jerusha Layne, her actress housemates, and two soon-to-be murdered contemporaries. The story moves between the time periods. In modern-day California, on the trail of a long-ago murderer, Jeri discovers links to more recent murders. She will have to work carefully to not fall victim herself.

Jeri Howard’s world is full of local flavor (and coffee), and Jerusha Layne’s life comes alive with the name-dropping, film-listing only found in Hollywood. Dawson’s knowledge of movie trivia is extensive, as is her knowledge of investigative skills. Jeri is a thorough, persistent private investigator, and we follow her as she searches the internet, libraries, police files, and government records. She interviews friends, neighbors, friends of neighbors, relatives, and anyone who might give her a clue that will solve the mystery.

Fans of Jeri Howard will be delighted with her newest mystery, and fans of historical fiction will enjoy the nostalgia of old Hollywood and pre-World War II America.