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The third in Estleman's always-entertaining series starring film archivist Valentino again delivers a delightful mix of comedy, mystery, and movie history. This time the archival jewel that inspires murder and puts Valentino in hot water is a long-lost screen test of Bela Lugosi trying out for the role of Frankenstein's monster that would eventually go to Boris Karloff. A down-and-out actor and onetime friend of Valentino's was trying to peddle the screen test before he was murdered. The cops like Valentino for the crime, leaving Val no choice but to find the Lugosi snippet and clear himself. The backstory on Legosi, Karloff, and the horror-movie genre in general will have film fans salivating, and, as always, Estleman seamlessly incorporates the movie bits into the mystery plot. And, for good measure, this time he throws in equally seamlessly a subplot involving a gaggle of steampunkers who come to Val's aid in the hunt for the screen test. Great fun on multiple fronts.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Actor Craig Hunter's life was on a downward trajectory that ended with his death from a beating in a San Diego bar. Valentino, among the last of his friends, feels guilty for ignoring Craig's final pleas for help. The deceased's ex-wife feels guilty too, but she might have a hidden agenda: it turns out that Craig had unearthed the legendary missing film reels of Bela Lugosi's horrible audition for Frankenstein. A rare find brings out the worst in collectors, and Valentino has trouble narrowing down which one crossed the ethical line. His formidable suspect list includes a mob boss, an elitist collector, and that ex-wife. Valentino's sleuthing resources may be limited, but his graduate assistant is a steampunk devotee, and his posse assists in a memorable showdown. VERDICT The UCLA-based film detective series, now at number three (after Alone) packs an impressive amount of film history into a tidy amateur sleuth entry. Leisurely paced and impressively researched, this is just the ticket for film buffs. [See Prepub Alert, 11/04/12.] (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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An intriguing McGuffin drives Shamus-winner Estleman's third mystery featuring U.C.L.A. film consultant Valentino (after 2009's Alone). Word reaches Valentino that a print may exist of Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein's monster, a role Lugosi rejected, but that made Karloff's career in the classic 1931 film. The scenes showing Lugosi as the monster may be related to the death of Valentino's estranged friend, alcoholic B-list action actor Craig Hunter, whose repeated calls for help Valentino does his best to ignore. When Hunter is beaten to death after another such call again falls on deaf ears, Valentino feels heartsick. The precise mode of the killing, which included the breaking of both arms above the elbows, points to an L.A. mobster, but the mobster's reason for taking out a hit on Hunter is obscure. Fascinating tidbits of Hollywood lore throughout more than compensate for the over-the-top ending. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.