A few months ago, Zephyrette Jill McLeod met a director who insisted that she play the part in his upcoming film noir, set aboard a train. Now she finds herself before the cameras in a Niles, California, warehouse that’s been turned into a movie set. Her temp job as an actress would be a lark if it weren’t for the dark emotions and conflicts swirling around the cast and crew. Some have secrets they’d rather not share, and antipathy toward a visiting studio executive who enjoys wielding his power. Someone winds up dead, and once again Jill is investigating a murder. Train buffs and movie buffs alike will relish this latest California Zephyr adventure.
“Above the line” is a movie-business term referring to those responsible for creative contributions to a film, i.e., director, producer, scriptwriter, and leading actors. On a movie budget, those costs were listed above a line, with all others below it. Jill and the reader learn the meanings of this and many more pieces of show-biz jargon (key grip, gaffer, and best boy; Klieg and key lights; clapperboard; bit player and character actor; call sheet; in the can; cutter; Poverty Row; dailies; scene “business”; etc.) On the other hand, the phrase “casting couch” is still familiar today, and it rears its ugly head here in 1953, long before #MeToo. More plot elements of the 1950s include the blacklist, homophobia, hobos riding the rails, and the Monuments Men recovering art stolen by the Nazis. The book’s setting, Niles in the East Bay, was a movie-making locale before Hollywood: Essanay Studios there was where Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp was filmed.
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Janet Dawson is the author of the four-book California Zephyr series and the thirteen-book Jeri Howard PI series. She has also written a suspense novel, a novella, and numerous award-nominated and -winning short stories. Past president of the Northern California Mystery Writers, she lives in California’s East Bay region.