Sunday, April 12, 2009

It Happened One Knife - Jeffrey Cohen


It Happened One Knife
A Double Feature Mystery
Jeffrey Cohen
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery

Elliot Freed has finally completed (almost) the renovations on his movie theater. He shows a double bill of comedies each week; one current and one classic. The place is called, appropriately enough, Comedy Tonight. This week, though, he’s showing a very special film. It’s called Killin’ Time. It’s a super-violent western. Not the usual fare, but it’s projectionist Anthony’s first-ever film. The audience mainly consists of Anthony’s film school buddies and his girlfriend, all of whom seem unduly impressed by the film. Once the show is over, and Anthony leaves, surrounded by admirers, Elliot goes up to the booth to put away the film. One problem: the film is gone. Another problem: Anthony seems to think Elliot stole it, possibly because he didn’t like it.

All that gets put on a back burner when Elliot discovers that one of his comedy heroes, Harry Lillis is living out his remaining years at a nearby Actor’s Home. Elliot immediately invites the man to Comedy Tonight for a showing of “Cracked Ice,” a classic made by Lillis with his partner-in-comedy, Les Townes. As it happens, Les shows up for the movie as well, and the sold-out audience is treated to a long-overdue reunion of the comedy team. After the show, Lillis and Townes reminisce about their co-star, and Townes’ late wife, Vivian. Both men clearly adored her. As he’s leaving, Lillis has one more bombshell for Elliot. He almost casually states that, fifty years ago, Townes killed Vivian.

It’s never fun to find out that a hero of your childhood has feet of clay. Or that he might just be human. Throwing in an allegation of murder is almost more than Elliot can take. In spite of the fact that the murder happened a half century ago and on the other side of the country, Elliot just can’t let it go. Lillis and Townes and their films were an important part of his development and he needs to know the truth.

I really wish that Lillis and Townes and their films had been real. It’s a real tribute to the author that he describes the film and the stars in a way that makes you think you might just remember having seen something almost like that. Elliot, despite his slightly offbeat business, is a very realistic character. He’s got a wry wit and a way with words. His relationships with his employees, his parents, and even his ex-wife are completely believable. Movie fans will enjoy these books (SOME LIKE IT HOT-BUTTERED) and their trivia and allusions. Non-fans will still enjoy the characters and twisty mystery plot.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-22256-0 (paperback)

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