Sunday, May 15, 2011

Framing Greatness: Loren Estleman Writing Valentino

Estleman, Loren D. Frames.

There's a lot that could be said about Loren Estleman's novel Frames, a modern-day mystery infused with the glamour and history of the early twentieth century, but the most pressing is this: not only is Frames the most enjoyable book I read in May, it may have taken the prize for favourite book I've read so far this year.

Estleman's Frames is a cold-case murder mystery set in a grand old movie theatre--and the emphasis, here, should be on the word old--in Hollywood, California. Film detective (also known as "archivist") Valentino works at UCLA and has a few hobbies on the side, one of which lands him in the middle of a police investigation during which one of the oldest and rarest silent films is in danger of being lost or destroyed. Estleman manages to fill the novel with interesting and informative tidbits about the history of silent film, maintain a fast-paced mystery plot, and even add hints (and overt moments) of romance. This book is engaging, funny, and charming; the descriptions of Old Hollywood glamour and ancient rotting architecture are entrancing, yet the action is well-grounded in the present day. While not as thought-provoking as some of the other historical books I've read this year, Frames is entertaining and elegant, written with an unlaboured simplicity of style and careful but uncomplicated structure that make me long to read another novel by Loren Estleman as soon as possible. My one caveat: reading Frames may make you suddenly fascinated by the world of silent cinema, and instantly moved to rent and watch as many old films as possible.

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