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Gerard O’Donovan

THE DOOM LIST . . . Between the covers

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I loved The Long Silence (click to read more) by Irish writer Gerard O’Donovan, and now his LA private detective Tom Collins returns, for another scandal-filled affair among the great and not-so-good in 1920s Hollywood. The Doom List refers to the campaign by the garrulous and ambitious Republican politician who set out to ‘clean up’ what he saw as the Sodom and Gomorrah of Tinsel Town. He is best remembered for the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code, informally referred to as the Hays Code, which spelled out a set of industry moral guidelines for the self-censorship of content in Hollywood cinema.

TDL coverFormer city cop Collins has earned a reputation among movie producers and stars as a man who gets things done, but in a discreet way, and here he becomes involved in getting to the bottom of a nasty blackmail case involving one of Hollywood’s rising stars. José Ramón Gil Samaniego is a young man who was to become better know as Ramon Novarro, star of many hit movies, and an heir to the throne of screen heart-throb vacated by Rudolf Valentino after his untimely death. O’Donovan peoples his story with actual real life characters as far as possible, and it is a winning formula. Samaniego is in trouble because there are intimate photographs of him taken a notorious club for homosexuals. Both he and his studio bosses are desperate that these photos and the negatives are found and destroyed.

There is another case occupying Tom’s mind and time. An old buddy from his police days, Thad Sullivan is in big trouble. Already feeling the heat from his senior officers because he refuses to look the other way when they accept backhanders and pervert the course of justice, he now faces another challenge, Some boys exploring a canyon in the Hollywood hills have discovered the corpse of a man, dried out by the fierce heat and unrecognisable. In his pocket, however, is a piece of paper with Thad’s name and police number. Can Tom save his friend’s career?

This is a thoroughly entertaining and intriguing glimpse into the murky world of the early Hollywood stars away from the popping of camera flash bulbs and hyped newspaper articles. Tom Collins is an old fashioned hero – incorruptible and determined. The Doom List is published by Severn House, and is out now. For more information about the author, you can visit his website by clicking the image below.

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 I had great fun looking up all the real life characters in this novel. Some of them are pictured below. First row, left to right: Roscoe Arbuckle, hugely popular comedian, ruined by a sex scandal. Charles H Crawford, LA mayor and organised crime boss. Douglas Fairbanks, star of many hit movies. Will H Hays, politician and ‘moral guardian’ of the silver screen.
Second row, left to right: Rex Ingram, Irish-born director, writer and actor. Kent Kane Parrot, corrupt lawyer and LA ‘fixer’. Barbara la Marr, dubbed as “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful”. Joe Martin, an orangutan who featured in several movies.
Third row, left to right: Ramon Novarro, screen heart-throb. Alice Terry, American actress and director. Adolph Zukor, producer and one of the founders of Paramount Pictures.

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THE LONG SILENCE . . . Between the covers

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Tom Collins is a former cop. He has been persuaded by an American Irish compatriot to give up the blue uniform and night stick and move to Los Angeles where, in 1922, the burgeoning movie industry can use a guy who is handy with his fists and can be a reassuring and intimidating presence around stars besieged by reporters and other opportunists.

After a bright start working for the Famous Players-Lasky outfit, Collins has blotted his copybook and been sacked. He is now picking up scraps, albeit those dropped by the king of movie comedy, Mack Sennett. Sennett is not alone in his adoration of actress Mabel Normand, and when she is implicated in the sensational murder of top director William Desmond Taylor, he sets Collins the near-impossible task of solving Taylor’s shooting.

TLS coverThe most intriguing feature of this novel – and there are many – is the way O’Donovan drops us into the real life Hollywood of 1922. I knew something about the demise of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, was aware of Mack Sennett and, of course, the names Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford resonate with people of my generation who are reasonably well-read. But I had neither heard of – nor seen pictures of – Mabel Normand and, thanks to the wonders of Google, I could see instantly how she was able to mesmerise a generation of movie goers and readers of magazines. Those eyes! Tom Collins tells us about them quite early in the book.

“She was an odd-looking creature, with those huge, half-hooded eyes. Beautiful, no doubt about it, with that little-girl ringlety innocence so favored by the movie-going public. Once, at a party, he saw her light up a room with her laughter.”

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Collins is stranded in a Hollywood sea full of different kinds of sharks, but all of them deadly.The local cops figure him for the shooting of a Shorty Madden, a drug dealer who has been supplying cocaine, but they are minnows compared with the repulsive and vindictive Aloysius Divine, who was busted for corruption when serving with Collins back in New York. He blames Collins for his downfall, and has sworn vengeance. Now, Divine is in The City of Angels working as a customs officer; he smells blood, and it belongs to Collins. Even more vindictive and remorseless is mob boss Tony Cornero. His business has been seriously compromised by the death of Madden, and he wants either the actual killer’s head – or that of Collins – on a plate.

ODonovanThis is a cracker of a book. To the casual observer, looking on from the safe distance of the best part of a century, Hollywood in the 1920s appears innocent and other-worldly. We might smile at the fluttering eyelashes and coy gestures of the female stars, and the black-and-white (both figuratively and literally) lack of ambiguity of the male heroes and villains but in reality the movie world was just as venal, corrupt and hard nosed as it is today. Gerard O’Donovan (right) lifts the stone from the ground and we see all manner of unpleasant – and deadly – creatures scurrying around in the unwelcome light. The first pages of the book might suggest that Tom Collins has told us all that he has to say, but I hope this is not the case. The Long Silence is published by Severn House, is available now in hardback and will be available as a Kindle on 1 May.

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