Hollywood is the place where dreams are made and occasionally nightmares find their way into the glitter and glamor of the stars.
In North Of Sunset by Harry Baum, we get a fictional glimpse into this world through the eyes of Michael Sennet and his beautiful actress wife Cheryl Leigh. Michael has become a big star, known throughout Hollywood; his face is a household phenomenon. Michael feels he has reached the pinnacle and is ready for the next step which he perceives as producing movies. The producer he works with, Martin Goldfarb is concerned that he is not ready for the big leagues on production and tries to keep his sights low. Michael is upset and having none of it.
At the same time in the city, there are a slew of murders happening. The only thing each victim has in common is their vanity license plates. Because the plate is taken at each crime scene, the serial killer has been coined the Vanity Plate Killer. Enter Curt Knudsen. He follows a group that talks about the ills of the world and his best friend is its leader. But he has tired of the continued rhetoric and has chosen to do something about those perceived ills. The murders make him feel powerful, and he trolls the streets looking for those whose lives he feels makes others suffer. He has his own thought process and determines the next victim based off his feelings.
Something is pulling these two bigger than life personalities inexorably together; the draw begins with just a bit of madness for Michael and a strange hint of pride from the killer. Michael, too, has vanity plates that came with his car which he received after one of his first gigs. As fate slowly brings these two together, bodies begin to pile up. Suddenly the murders change as well, is there now a copycat killer? Can California’s finest find this killer before he strikes again?
Henry Baum has written a view of Hollywood from the inside. His characters are much like you would expect, both with their flaws and their grandeur. Boredom between work breeds contempt and trouble, and Michael finds himself up to his neck in both. The excitement of being well known comes with the downside of everyone knowing or wanting to know your most personal secrets. As with the real deal, we meet the Paparazzi, and are introduced to the Homicide Detective in charge of the case.
As each of the characters is introduced Baum creates a catalyst that twists them all together creating a situation where Michael feels he has no way to go but down. But even in this twisted scenario he feels a sort of power, even in his shame. The Hollywood Baum creates is very like what we expect: there is the glamor, but there is also the dark undertow waiting for the unwary.
If you enjoy suspense and murder mysteries, you will enjoy this work. The world of the stars is so different and yet somewhat like that of our own, and it is interesting to get such a vivacious and fresh description. Baum has found a way to bring his characters to a maddening low and executes an ending that pulls them out of the abyss. It is one I did not see coming.