Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st July 2021 from Pushkin Vertigo
My thanks to Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Vertigo for a review copy
Some girl dies. Film editor Marissa has read better loglines for films, but still jumps at the chance to travel to a small island to work with the legendary – and legendarily demanding – director Tony Rees.
Soon she discovers that on this set, nothing is as it seems. There are rumours of accidents, indiscretions and burgeoning scandals. In the midst of this chaos, Marissa is herself drawn into an amateur investigation of the real-life murder that is the movie’s central subject.
The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be done.
I loved this book. Engaging, set in the world of movie making and in the genre of a locked room mystery (or island in this case) Pretty As A Picture has a fascinating and quirky narrator in film editor Melissa Dahl.
This is a beautifully put together story with lots for all readers. There’s a sharp humour and wit and intelligent prose that cuts through the beautifully done old movie feel of the film and location. It’s a classic mystery but with a true crime edge and a heroine who is both endearing and engaging. More though, it deals intelligently with cinematic and murder mystery tropes in a way that satirises the movie industry while telling a fabulous story.
The humour is sharp and witty and the tale is told with a fresh and lively eye.
Melissa is a damned good editor, in part because she sees the world in terms of images. They are her frame of reference when trying to work out how people are responding to her and what emotions they are expressing. Shy, introverted and not a little OCD, it is to her beloved films that Marissa turns when she wants to understand the world around her.
She’s been working with a rising star of the independent film world recently and her star has risen alongside her friend Amy’s, but now she is in need of work elsewhere and so she accepts a job without interrogating the circumstances too closely. She knows that she’ll be working with the high profile and exacting director, Tony Rees, with whom she had a slightly uncomfortable encounter early in her career. But despite his demanding and sometimes tyrannical ways, Rees makes good movies and the pay is good, so she heads off to the location which Rees has determined must be kept under wraps.
This turns out to be an island off the coast of Delaware with a beautiful old fashioned hotel which is where the cast and crew are filming. Marissa still hasn’t read the script but it soon becomes clear that this movie is based on a real crime that occurred on this island some years previously.
Caitlyn Kelly was 19 years old when she was found dead on the beach. As the movie making progresses it becomes clear to Marissa that everyone on the island has a pretty good idea of who murdered her, though the leading actor, who is playing that character, has other ideas.
Marissa wants to know why her predecessor was fired but no-one will talk and even he, under threat of an NDA, will not divulge the reason. But what she does find out is that there have been a series of accidents on the set and indeed on her first day there a generator overheats sending broken glass from burnt out exploding bulbs all over the set and the principal actress.
Marissa has had to sign her own NDA and give up her smartphone and these things alone are making her nervous, though she does have a protector in the form of handsome bodyguard, Isaiah. When she’s attacked by someone who is in the process of stealing the film footage, she is determined to find out what’s going on and why.
Marissa is helped by two murder minded teenagers Grace Portillo and Suzy Koh, whose parents work for the hotel. They run their own true crime podcast and are keen to solve the mystery of who really killed Caitlin Kelly.
When another murder takes place on the island it is Marissa’s cinematic eye that will put together the key clues and provide the answers the island has been waiting for.
Verdict: A fascinating, sharp and witty thriller with brilliant dialogue and a protagonist who really works on all levels. At one a satirical look at the madness of movie making and an evocation of the heyday of movie making, this is a thriller you won’t want to miss. It’s great fun, intelligent, full of film references and has a fine sharp edged and witty take on the industry all fused together in an intriguing and fascinating plotline.
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Elizabeth Little is the author of the CWA-longlisted Dear Daughter, which won the Strand Critics Award for Best First Novel, and two works of nonfiction, Biting the Wax Tadpole and Trip of the Tongue. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.