Kate Hildebrand is a survivor. At the age of 13, kidnappers associated with her ne’er-do-well father locked her in a dark room for days, and upon her rescue, she learned her parents had not survived. Four years later, her aunt who took her in has remarried and sent her to Hollywood to live with her eccentric grandfather, a washed-up silent film actor. It’s 1938, the industry has changed, and the boarders who pay her grandfather’s expenses dream of stardom. Kate only wants to go to college and study astronomy.
On the day she arrives at her grandfather’s creepy old house, she witnesses a murder that turns out to be staged—the aspiring actors’ rehearsal. Later on, one of the more unpleasant boarders turns up dead under almost identical circumstances, and the leading suspect is 18-year-old Hugo Quick, the youngest boarder, to whom Kate has grown attached. In the meantime, the teenage girl next door, whose star appears to be rising, offers Kate the lucky break in film that she doesn’t want. But perhaps this is her grandfather’s chance to rekindle his career and end his depression.
Black’s writing is stylized and lush, befitting her subject matter. Details of 1930s Hollywood, including names of key figures during this Depression-era golden age of film, will delight fans of film history. Kate is a complex, engaging protagonist as she tries to move beyond her past and attain the life she wants instead of the one offering itself to her. Though it develops slowly, the mystery surrounding the murder holds the reader’s attention, with rippling effects as tabloid reporters prove more persistent than the police and an intertwined network of gangsters and industry bigwigs seek to ensure that justice will not be served.