Reviews: The Wrong Girl
“Casey plays up the melodrama and delivers a silent-movie feel to the story…shocking and amusing by turns, The Wrong Girl starts a new series with great promise.” Booklist starred review
“Casey’s portrait of how stars were born and kept their status during Hollywood’s silent era will intrigue film buffs.” Publishers Weekly
With this new series launch, Casey (“Alafair Tucker” mysteries) performs a little genre-bending, penning a coming-of-age tale within the context of a 1920s-set cozy mystery that could just as easily been ripped from today’s headlines. VERDICT Old Hollywood, silent film stars, the Jazz Age, and strong female characters all combine to create a solid read for crime fiction fans of all stripes. Library Journal
“This is the first in an excellent new series by Donis Casey, author of the Alafair Tucker mysteries. In 1920, Blanche, one of Alafair’s daughters, longs to become a Hollywood star. Charming Graham Peyton, posing as a film producer, sweeps Blanche off her feet. But, after she runs away with him, he abandons her and sells her to a pimp. Blanche escapes, and an aging film star hires her as a stunt double. Eventually, Blanche makes it to Hollywood and becomes the renowned, but mysterious, actress Bianca LaBelle.
Six years later, Peyton’s skeleton is found on a beach. A notorious gangster hires detective Ted Oliver to find out who killed him. Oliver’s search leads him to Bianca. Did her past with Graham Peyton lead her to murder? Or did one of his many other victims kill him?
Casey brings the world of silent film to life, using Hollywood slang from the 1920s. The novel is structured like a silent movie, with black-and-white story cards at the head of each chapter. Casey takes us to another world, but one which is all-too-close to ours. The theme of film executives as sexual predators could have been taken from today’s headlines. Highly recommended.” Vicki Kondelik for Historical Novel Review, Feb. 2020
This energetic novel is from the author of the hit Alafair Tucker Mysteries, Donis Casey. “The Wrong Girl,” the first book in her new series, transports readers back to glitzy 1920s Hollywood, when movie stars reigned supreme. Bianca LaBelle is famous for her daring silver-screen character Bianca Dangereuse, but in real life she’s reclusive – and hiding a secret past. In her teens, as a naive farm girl in Oklahoma, she was swept off her feet by a smooth-talking con man, Graham Peyton, who promised her a life in the pictures. Now, six years later, she has that life, and his body has washed up on the shores of Santa Monica beach. Private detective Ted Oliver is tasked with getting to the bottom of it, but his investigation is complicated by the fact that he’s falling victim to Bianca’s charms. An easy, fun read, ideal for passing plane or train trips, or snowy weekends at home. Tara Henley, our windsor.com
And last but not least, here is Judith Starkstons entire review. I reproduce it here since I love it so much. Judith is one of the mavins of the Historical Novel genre. You can check out her fascinating website here.
“Donis Casey has launched a new series. If you are a fan of Casey’s ten Alafair Tucker mysteries, you’ll know that she’s one of the best at writing dialogue and setting that plunges the reader into a very particular time and place. Her plots excite and entice. All that writing skill goes full speed ahead in the new series. The place has changed and moved forward (a little) in time. We’re (mostly) not in Oklahoma anymore, Toto.
It’s Hollywood and the films are silent. There are some truly brutish cads in the cast of characters, but the novel’s villainy is far more subtle than a silent flicker’s stereotypical bad guy. Nothing’s simple here and the wrongdoings have a way of creeping up on the reader in twisty, unsettling ways.
Who is Bianca?
In the opening scene, a private detective, Ted Oliver, drives up to the luxurious estate of Bianca LaBelle, the star of “the biggest money-making movie franchise in the entire Western world.” The star, unlike her fellow actors who live “to see their names in print,” is an enigma. Rumors swirl about her origins. Is she from a noble French family, escaped to America to avoid an arranged marriage? She lives with Alma Bolding—an actress twenty years her senior and famous and wildly successful long before she took Bianca in. Salacious suggestions arise about the two women. Oliver rather doubts the scuttlebutt. He even doubts her name is Bianca LaBelle.
He’s come to ask her about a recent discovery of bones in a hillside along the coast, exposed by a recent storm. This is not the usual dead body in a murder mystery. Bianca answers Oliver’s inquiry with the slightly snide, “I’m as interested as anyone in Mr. Carter’s recent discoveries in Egypt,” but she denies knowing anything about bones. But those bones are trouble—that much we can guess, but the untangling of why and to whom will be ever so entertaining.
Connection to Alafair
If this elegant young woman feels faintly familiar to Casey’s longtime readers, there’s a reason. After the first three gripping chapters, the novel shifts from 1926 Hollywood back to Boynton, Oklahoma in 1920. Bianca is Blanche, one of Alafair’s daughters. You will have met her if you read The Wrong Hill to Die On, but it won’t matter a bit if you haven’t. She isn’t content with her lot. Worse, she thinks she’s more worldly and wily than it turns out she is. Naivete can be dangerous—or perhaps dangereuse, if we’re going to stay in character. The novel quickly leaves Boynton behind and from there, masterfully intertwines two timelines of events six years apart.
There’s both nail-biting suspense and humor in this mystery. The humor often lies in clever word play: “Southern California was chock-a-block with good looking men. Most of them with the character of a weasel, and in certain cases that comparison was insulting to weasels everywhere.”
Casey has a special talent for total reader immersion in the world of her novel through the speech patterns and word choices of each character. At one point someone we don’t like at all throws a small delay tactic with this bit of slang that puts us squarely in 20’s Hollywood, “let me go to the can and change my threads.” Blanche holds the job of narrator for parts of this tale, and her youth and innocence comes through vividly in her narrative voice, “Blanche had thought she couldn’t be more over the moon when she found out she was going to meet Alma Bolding, but Tom Mix was just the berries.” ‘Just the berries’? It’s enough to make the reader’s heart break with worry for this child. And the idea that a girl who is over the moon over a movie star can later be the cool, restrained woman of the opening scene? That puzzle laces this book with tension that will keep you turning pages.
The Right Book
Much as I love Alafair and will miss her fictional presence in my reading life, I am happy to report that Donis Casey’s extension westward and onward will not disappoint. I highly recommend The Wrong Girl. It’s the right book.