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July 12, 1999

Robert S. Levinson, Tor/Forge, $24.95
(304 p) ISBN 0-312-86968-1

The discovery of love letters between Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe supplies the premise for Levinson’s stylish and droll debut. This intricate caper, set in L.A., combines the manners of hard-boiled detective fiction with the seriocomic antics of Nick and Nora Charles.

Former crime beat reporter Neil Gulliver now writes a column about “people at their best and worst” for the take-no-prisoners (L.A.) Daily. His ex-wife, Stevie Marriner (“the sex queen of the soaps”), is about to make her big break from daytime TV to Broadway by starring in a one-woman show abut the life of M.M. when the show’s playwright-director, John “Black Jack" Sheridan, is murdered. Stevie is the prime suspect; in fact, she confesses to Neil, but claims she killed to save another’s life. Using all his reportorial skills, Gulliver mines his Hollywood connections to convince the cops that his ex is innocent. His investigation digs into or trips over Hollywood’s past by rounding up a glorious assortment of characters on the downslope of major careers: an aged, revered star; an intrepid former press head of 20th Century Fox; one of Marilyn’s confidants; an idolized cowboy star. The body count mounts when Gulliver’s investigation reveals that the person who appears to be the real killer is protecting what Sheridan threatened to expose—a secret affair on the Fox lot in 1956 between Elvis and Marilyn. The hunt for the real murderer and the chase for the letters doesn’t stop until the last page.

Levinson, a former L.A. reporter and PR man, knows his Tinseltown and its myths, and uses them both to smart effect. (Aug.)

FYI: This novel’s pub date, August 16, marks the 22nd anniversary of Elvis’s death.

July 1, 1999

Levinson, Robert S.
Forge/Tor (304 pp.)
Aug. 16, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86968-1

Take The Aspern Papers, add plenty of sex talk about Marilyn and Elvis, sprinkle in some dead bodies, and you get­a first novel brimming with brio, self-confidence, and nostalgia for vanished idols of Hollywood’s various Golden Ages.

Levinson's mouthpiece is Neil Gulliver, an entertainment columnist for the Los Angeles Daily whose wry, side-of-the-mouth comments on every little thing grate until it becomes clear that they reflect his essential humanity. Gulliver's ex-wife is Sex Queen of the Soaps Stevie Marriner, an ego-bound beauty who still calls him daily for advice—in this instance about her attempt to escape TV thralldom by making her stage debut as Marilyn Monroe in a one-woman show. Stevie's having big problems with her director, John ``Black Jack'' Sheridan, a Broadway playwright who moved to Hollywood 30 years ago. The biggest problem is that he's now dead, laid out in his bedroom at the Motion Picture Retirement Estates, his brain bashed in by a blunt object: his Oscar statuette. Although Stevie, at Neil's command, will admit nothing to the police, she later tells Neil an involved story. Sheridan attacked her in his living room. Elderly actress Claire Cavanaugh, who has passing moments of senile dementia, walked in on them. When Sheridan started to strangle Claire, Stevie whopped him with Oscar, then passed out. She regained consciousness to find the body—Claire having vanished along with Stevie's alibi. Many suspects turn up, as do more bodies, with the plot turning on a lost cache of love letters between Marilyn and Elvis. Do the letters really exist, and if so, where are they? Will Neil and Stevie do the nasty? Will Elvis and Marilyn?

Levinson, a former Los Angeles crime reporter and p.r. executive, knows his turf well enough to make this readable celebrity rip-off a plausible first for a projected series.