Neil Gulliver, newspaper columnist and former crime reporter, is dragged into the story of a lifetime when his ex-wife is accused of murder. Stephanie Marriner is a well-known soap-opera sexpot and aspiring “serious” actress who has landed the lead in Marilyn Remembers, a one-woman play about the love life of Marilyn Monroe. Now playright/director Blackie Sheridan is dead, Stevie was the last to see him alive and may be the murderer, and the still-besotted Neil is trying to establish her innocence.
It will be an uphill battle. Virtually everyone at the Motion Picture Retirement Estates, the cottage community for ex-showbiz types where the murder took place, will be a suspect. There’s Claire Cavanaugh, former screen star, who walked in on the murder, but now appears to be in a mental fairyland. An act? Perhaps … and perhaps not. There’s aging director Mimith Polyzoides. There’s former cowboy star Sunset Beaudry, who gives Neil his first real clue: Marilyn Remembers was going to be a bombshell, all right. Blackie Sheridan had included the story of Marilyn’s affair with Elvis Presley, an affair that was kept secret for years. The truth is contained in the actual love letters of the two stars. People will kill to get their hands on those letters.
Soon other “deaths” take place, and Neil is sure they aren’t accidental. He needs to find those letters, and with them, the murderer. With the help of Augie Fowler, a onetime actor and former crime reporter, and Lieutenant DeSantis, a cop who hates the DA even more than he hates reporters, he just might succeed.
Robert Levinson has a lot of fun skewering various Hollywood types in The Elvis and Marilyn Affair. If you can think of one, it’s probably represented at the Motion Picture Retirement Estates. The tone of the book is light, almost breezy, and we get to know Neil well because the story is told through him. Neil Gulliver may be a lovelorn sap carrying a torch for his ex-wife, but he’s also an irreverent smartass, and his observations on the world of Old Hollywood and the MPRE are priceless. The quick pacing allows a large cast of secondary characters to move easily through the story.
The single viewpoint does have its drawbacks. The biggest one is Stevie; we’re never privy to her thoughts, and her actions don’t exactly cover her in glory. The entire book is based around the idea that Neil is so in love with this woman that he will do anything to get her out of trouble, yet other than being told that she gives a lot to charity, she appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Self-absorbed doesn’t begin to describe her. Neil is presented as a decent sort of guy, and you want him to get what he deserves, yet his hankering after this bimbo makes him look like a schmuck. Stevie isn’t nearly good enough for him, no matter how magnificent her chest.
And the eventual denouement had a certain “cast of thousands” feel to it. Shades of Cecil B. deMille. Ah well, this is Tinseltown, after all.
The Elvis and Marilyn Affair offers an entertaining mystery, a nifty hero, and a less-than-satisfying heroine. If Stevie Marriner can be humanized, this would be a duo worth visiting again.