The Jean Harlow Bombshell is the first in a series about a celebrity biographer, Charlotte Donovan, who takes over her boss Justine’s latest project — a biography on 1930s film star Jean Harlow — when Justine suddenly drops dead in a cafe in chapter one. Before she dies, Justine tells Charlotte that several people have been harassing her about the manuscript, and Charlotte soon finds herself having to fend these people off. Worse, Charlotte also seems to be stalked by a woman who looks very much like Jean Harlow, and she has to figure out what’s going on and keep herself safe, all while finishing Justine’s manuscript in time.
I love cozy mysteries, and I find 1920s / 1930s Hollywood glamour totally fascinating. I hadn’t realized Jean Harlow was a real person until I googled her about halfway through this book, and I love that the author chose to focus on a lesser known star. Jean Harlow also died pretty suddenly, and had some tragic twists in her life, all of which makes for rich possibilities for a mystery. I like that Charlotte wants to distinguish herself from Justine by delving a bit deeper into the ‘reality’ of her subject rather than simply repackaging the known stories — apart from helping drive the plot (it leads to Charlotte digging deeper into potentially dangerous territory), this is also a nice reminder of the humanity behind the glitz and glamour of the celebrities being discussed.
The mystery is good and moves forward at a nice, quick pace. I love the team up of Charlotte and Kate, how strong their friendship seems, and how well they work together to uncover the various clues. I also like how nerdy some of the investigation became, with a lot of focus on the research needed to learn about a long-dead celebrity’s life.
The book also delves a bit into Charlotte having Lyme disease. I hadn’t realized before that Lyme disease could be chronic, and while I’d heard of it, I didn’t really know what the symptoms were. So I really liked how the author incorporated it into the story and showed us the various ways in which it affected Charlotte’s daily life, without ever treating her as an invalid because of it.
I enjoyed this mystery, and I look forward to reading more of the series. As a side note, it turns out the author was inspired to write this because she is related to Jean Harlow. How awesome is that?!
- From the Author’s Note, I see you were inspired to write this because of your family connection to Jean Harlow. Are you a fan of her movies? Which is your favourite and why?
I was not really familiar with her movies until my fascination began. One weekend I watched TCM all weekend because it was a Jean Harlow weekend. I think my favorite is “Dinner at Eight.”It shows off her comedic talents–she could have been one of the great comedic actresses if she hadn’t died so young. I think that’s where her true gift was.
- What fascinates you about 1920s/1930s Hollywood stars? And why do you think that era still has a lot of appeal to readers?
It was such an interesting era in film making–right before, then during, the Hayes code, which became the rule for popular film making for decades when it came to sex, profanity, and so many cultural “definitions” for lack of a better word. things like adultery were frowned on, of course, and one of the rules was you couldn’t make aa comedy about adultery. so there were things like that hemmed in a lot of talent.
Of course, Hollywood was at its most glamorous and it still had this shroud of magic and mystery around it. The stars had secrets–and for the most part they were kept. Their stories were spun so tight by the studios sometimes it’s hard for a biographer to go back and get the truth. I think for as much as many of us are glued to social media to see what next big feud erupts between the stars, or some other scandal, a part of us still enjoys imagining and not really knowing all the gritty detail about a celebrity’s drug or sex problem. In fact, I think what’s left out is much more intriguing. Some of us like to wonder.
And then there’s whole richness of the story telling and film making of the 1930’s in particular. The quick-witted banter. The fashion. The innuendo. All just so fascinating when compared to what’s out there today.
- Your other mystery series feature scrapbooking and crafts. How was writing this book different, in terms of research and any challenges you may have faced?
It was very different from the start. The voice in this novel is very different than in my craft mysteries, which are light-hearted. While this isn’t a “dark” mystery, like Gone Girl, or something in that vein, it’s far more gritty than my cozies. So at the time, I was writing both kinds–a cozy and this traditional mystery and would really have to work at keep the voice true. I listened to different, more jazzy and bluesy music and read darker mysteries. That’s not to say this voice isn’t more natural for me. I think it is. That’s one of the surprises I found when writing this. I enjoyed the challenge of it. Another challenge was that its set in New York city, a place I’ve spent a lot of time, but my characters live there and I wanted it to ring true, so I had my daughter, Emma help me with that. She is a student at Marymount Manhattan and knows the city very well. In terms of research, there’s a lot out there on Jean Harlow. The trick became to figure out what was good and what wasn’t. There a great deal of just plain trash written about her.
- Totally unrelated to the book, but I see on your website that you once had 28 cats. What was that like?
Crazy, right? I don’t recommend it. We had something five or six cats and they all had kittens one spring. It was amazing. I watched several of the cats giving birth and loved all of the kittens. it was so hard to give them up! We lived way out in the country in Pa. We found good homes for all of the kittens and even a few of the mama cats.
Thank you to the author for an e-galley of the book in exchange for an honest review, and for doing the Q&A!