Make Believe: An Edna Ferber Mystery
It’s 1950s Hollywood, and author Edna Ferber’s famous novel Show Boat is the current movie buzz. She leaves her beloved New York to visit longtime friend and promoter, Max Jeffries, under scrutiny for supporting friends, actors and screenwriters who he sees as unfairly branded as Communists in the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy investigations. When Max is suddenly murdered, Edna gets involved in Max’s social circle, which takes her from friendship with the dazzling star of the new film, Ava Gardner, and her illicit lover, Frank Sinatra, to the dubious company of Sinatra’s gang from the old neighborhood, the Pannis brothers, and Max’s wife, a Pannis widow. Edna witnesses a brawl at the group’s favorite restaurant where gossip columnist Louella Parsons also hears Sinatra threatening Max, so her morning column puts Frank on the suspect list. Edna quietly wonders if the punk-like Sinatra or his Hoboken pals killed her friend, Max. Or was it revenge by an overzealous member of the patriot group, America First?
Although this story has a lively cast of characters, the detective Edna Ferber, sadly, isn’t one of them. She bemoans the news of Max’s death at first but doesn’t show much emotion or energy getting clues. The other characters fight back and forth, and Ava, the most defined character in the story, befriends Edna but keeps defending a side of Sinatra the reader never sees as more than a tough guy. Edna’s style may be as the watchful bystander who uses her excellent vocabulary to put fools in their place, but by the time she steps up her investigation and faces the culprit, the reader is left flat or is past caring.