Chances are one would not associate the name Clive Rosengren with stardom, despite his 40-year acting career with roles on Cheers and Seinfeld, as well as various B movies, under his belt. However, the Fargo native does have an auspicious start to a career as a novelist of atmospheric Hollywood noir; a genre that puts his experience in the business to good use.
Murder Unscripted follows Eddie Collins, a part-time actor turned Humphrey Bogart-esque private investigator. While acting as a cowboy for a Chubby’s Chicken commercial, Eddie receives a phone call from a film bonds company about a film called Flames of Desire, which has been put on hold due to the sudden death of its leading lady, Elaine Weddington. In typical film noir fashion, Eddie has a personal stake in the case: Elaine Weddington was his ex-wife, and the police suspect she was murdered.
Film buffs ought to revel in the numerous references to classic films, as well as the use of noir caricatures such as Sam Goldberg, the tough-talking, cigar-smoking film producer—and part-time thug—whom Eddie questions in relation to Elaine’s death. Elaine herself channels the behavior and persona of the prototypical prima donna; Vivien Leigh, in particular, comes to mind.
Additionally, though there’s just one passing reference to a Marlon Brando movie, there are certainly enough sleazy men of the Hollywood underworld to evoke that kind of Mafioso atmosphere. Another, more subtle, nod to the classic film era is in the dialogue: more often than not, movies are called motion pictures.
As with many murder mysteries, Murder Unscripted is briskly paced, and the short chapters—most ending in cliffhangers—make it a light, breezy read; as does the dry humor and wit of Collins’ narration, which makes it easy to picture him in a trench coat, wearing a fedora.
Unfortunately a rushed ending leaves questions unanswered; though, clearly, Rosengren intends to leave possibilities open for future sequels, so that can be forgiven. It can be predicted that upcoming books in the Eddie Collins series will, like the first, appeal to both film buffs and fans of crime novels, with enough suspense, drollness, and pop culture references to keep the pages turning till the end.
This review previously appeared in the High Plains Reader, a Fargo-Moorhead publication, in July 2012.
– Särah Nour