Scene, cut, action. This is Hollywood in the 1930s and Guy Bolton’s novel The Pictures transports the reader in the era of Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Gary Cooper. There is stardom, there is drama and there is murder.
The novel begins with a murder investigation and the reader gets introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Jonathan Craine. Detective Craine has spent the majority of his career acting more as a studio ‘fixer’ rather than a real cop, covering up the dirty stories that the Hollywood stars do not want to get into the public eye. Craine is assigned this new murder investigation and through series of hindsight episodes the reader learns more about his past, the suicide of his wife, herself an actress, and the estranged relationship he has with his son. The closer Craine comes to solving this murder, and a following up suicide, the more he gets to tackle his own demons from his past and present. The crime element of the book is very well done and the twists and turns are well conceived and keep the reader on edge. The mystery behind the murder and suicide, the missing pictures and the corruption of the Hollywood society all combine to make an excellent crime story.
However, a first-rate crime story is not always good enough to make an excellent read and this is the case with Bolton’s novel. Although the setting, Hollywood in the 1930s, is an exciting idea the book is not entirely convincing. The world building is not complete in The Pictures and although the reader gets the famous names of Hollywood stars and the occasional hints of the era the majority of the book fails to submerge the reader in the world of the 1930s. The same can be said for the characters of the book. They also lack conviction and feel more like film heroes rather than book protagonists which on its own is an innovative notion. Creating book characters that resemble movie heroes in a book about the movie industry can be seen by some as inspired and by some as lacking and this should be decided by each individual reader. However, there is definitely an element missing to the characters. The main protagonist is not likeable, which on its own is perfectly fine, but his relationships, especially the love element of the book, feel forced and rushed which leaves the reader wanting more. The dialogues are sometimes strained letting the reader realise that this is just a book at the end of the day. All of us know that a good book should be so convincing that it never lets you doubt even for a moment the reality of the story and its world.
With all of this said, The Pictures by Guy Bolton is a good novel that just lacks in certain aspects. The world and characters could have been fleshed out further but the excellent criminal element and the unpredictable plot twists more than make up for this. However, if you are looking for an excellent crime story that will leave you wondering, Bolton’s novel The Pictures is that story.
The Pictures is available now, published by Point Blank.