Design for Dying: A Lillian Frost & Edith Head Novel – Renee Patrick
Forge Books, 2016
Hardcover, 317 pages
Like many young women in Los Angeles in 1937, Lillian Frost wanted to make it big in the movies. Yet like so many others, she didn’t, finding work instead as a salesgirl at an upscale department store. But Lillian’s roommate Ruby seemed to be on the right track, going to the right parties and getting lots of attention, that is, until she wound up murdered. Not only that, but Ruby was found wearing a gown stolen from the Paramount wardrobe department, a gown designed by Hollywood wardrobe icon Edith Head.
Although respected and recognized in 1937, Edith Head was not yet a Hollywood household name and her eight Oscars for costume design were all in the future. So how in the world can Head and a young salesgirl join forces to uncover a murderer?
Design for Dying (a nod to the 1933 Ernst Lubitsch film Design for Living) succeeds not only as a terrific murder mystery, but also a stellar time capsule of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Renee Patrick (the pen name for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan) fills the novel with period atmosphere, detail, and even cameos with Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck and more. Yet the working relationship between Head and Lillian is the book’s greatest delight, one that oddly enough reminds me of the “odd couple” relationship that Archie Goodwin has with Nero Wolfe in the Rex Stout novels and TV series. There’s definitely an element of the wise person-in-charge mentoring the young detective who does most of the legwork. Further details would only spoil the fun, so do yourself a favor and pick up Design for Dying. (The second book in the series, Dangerous to Know, was published in April.)
You can find out more by visiting the Renee Patrick website.
And if you aren’t already listening to the podcast Noir Talk on SoundCloud or iTunes, you should. On the podcast’s fourth episode, host Haggai Elitzur talks to Vince and Rosemarie about their books, Edith Head, and much more.
This review is part of my participation in the Summer Reading Challenge at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog.