(Winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award) Los Angeles, late 1940s: As brush fires begin to eat at the dry grass in the hills rimming the San Fernando Valley, a more ominous threat is taking shape. All over Hollywood, the U.S. government is ordering people to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee as part of the crusade to uncover Communist influence in the movies. John Ray Horn has little use for politics, but he knows a few things about outsiders. And when his ex-lover Maggie O'Dare asks him to come to the aid of an old friend of hers who has been targeted by the committee, he can't refuse. Owen Bruder, a brilliantly talented but notoriously difficult screenwriter, is accused of having belonged to the Communist Party -- a charge he strongly denies. If Horn can discover Bruder's secret accuser, they might have a chance to clear his name. But no one is willing to talk. People are scared -- perhaps more frightened than they were in the Depression, or even the war. Hollywood has become a place run by fear and suspicion, where a whisper is all it takes to smear an innocent man. As Horn's search leads him to powerful figures in Hollywood, the media, and his own government, his investigation takes a sudden and deadly turn. He is forced to ask if those in authority are capable of murder in order to attain their political goals. And he finds that more people will die before all the secrets are laid bare.
Now there's no mistaking the smell of fire in the air. It is just over the mountains, still unseen, but it's coming this way...
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JOHN RAY HORN'S LOS ANGELES
John Ray Horn, the character I've developed over the course of three novels, is an ex-cowboy actor who must deal with matters of life and death against the backdrop of Los Angeles in the 1940s. Several things drew me to him and his locale:
As a youngster growing up in Arkansas, I went to the Saturday afternoon matinees and was thrilled by the simple, unsophisticated heroism of the cowboy movies. Today I'm intrigued by the idea of a man who once portrayed a hero on the screen but who is now an outcast and is forced to compare himself every day with his old image.
Although I've chosen to live in the City of Angels, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by its size and pace. I look back with affection at the Los Angeles I never knew -- the young city with few tall buildings, its wide-open spaces occupied only by citrus and nut groves and bean fields, a city only dimly aware of its coming greatness.
Part of this nostalgia, of course, is fed by Hollywood itself. Many old black-and-white B-movies -- made by studios that couldn't afford expensive sets -- contain scenes shot on the streets of the real Los Angeles. Look at that city, with its great open stretches, streets running alongside endless rows of fruit trees, and you'll know that L.A. will never again look so young and raw or have so much room to breathe.
Then there's the artificial L.A., also served up by the movies. Anyone who's watched Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep, with that scene of the cottage up in Laurel Canyon and a torrential rain drenching Bogart, his car, and his trench coat, might be forgiven for thinking that it rains a lot in L.A. I thought so -- until I moved here. But this interplay between myth and reality is part of what's compelling about this town. And somewhere near that intersection, I've tried to create my own L.A., with sunshine and shadow, lemon groves and road houses, hustlers and decent people, attempts at human contact amid loneliness.
Edward Wright grew up in Arkansas and went to school in Tennessee and Illinois. He has been an officer in the U.S. Navy and an editor at the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. His noir-flavored mysteries featuring John Ray Horn -- "Clea's Moon," "While I Disappear" (U.K. title: "The Silver Face"), and "Red Sky Lament" -- set in Los Angeles during the 1940s, have won the Shamus Award in the U.S. and the Debut Dagger and Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award in the U.K. His first non-series book, "Damnation Falls," a contemporary mystery-thriller set in small-town Tennessee, won the Barry Award. His latest novel, "From Blood," was named one of the best mysteries of the year by the Financial Times of London, and a U.S. edition is due in 2012. Although now a Californian, he retains a Southerner's love of barbecue and bluegrass music. He and his wife, Cathy, live in the Los Angeles area. edwardwrightbooks.com
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