The Long Silence

Written by Gerard O’Donovan
Review by Ellen Keith

This is my kind of mystery. Set in Hollywood in 1922, it begins with “As soon as he wrestled Swann’s lifeless form into the roadster…” No, protagonist Tom Collins isn’t a murderer. He’s a fixer for famous producer Mack Sennett, and Swann, one of Sennett’s stars is doped up, not dead. Swann’s condition is the least of Sennett’s problems, however. Director William Desmond Taylor has just been murdered, and suspicion falls on Taylor’s girlfriend (or is she?) and Sennett’s ex, actress Mabel Normand. Sennett would do anything to save Normand both professionally (he’s released her latest movie) and personally (he still carries a torch for her). He’s subsidized Collins after he was fired from his security position at the Famous Players-Lasky Studio, so Collins owes him.

The book moves at a breakneck pace as every rock Collins turns over leads to something even more unsavory. Normand is also a dope fiend, and Taylor wants her off the stuff. When Collins witnesses the murder of her dealer, both the police and the mob are after him. O’Donovan populates his fictional tale with real-life Hollywood personalities of the 1920s, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mickey Neilan, and Gloria Swanson, but wisely doesn’t let them take center stage. They appear just enough to make the setting credible, and indeed O’Donovan effortlessly evokes a certain time and place. Crooked cops, the Volstead Act, and the first glimmer of the Hays Code all add to the atmosphere. I didn’t want this tale to end, and as it looks like the first in a series, maybe it won’t.