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Dive in: 'Do Tell' and 'The Stolen Coast' are perfect summer escapes

Penguin Random House

It's time for some escape reading. Let's take off for the coast — both coasts, in fact — and get some temporary relief from the heat and everything else that's swirling around in the air.

Lindsay Lynch's luscious debut novel, Do Tell, is set, not in the roiling Hollywood of today, but in the Golden Age of the '30s and '40s when studio moguls could keep an iron lid on all manner of unrest and scandal.

Lynch's main character, Edie O'Dare, is in the business of ferreting out what the studios would rather keep hidden. A flame-haired character actress, Edie has been boosting her pay check by working as a source for one of Hollywood's leading gossip columnists, Poppy St. John, aka "The Tinseltown Tattler."

But, as Edie creeps close to 30 and her contract with the mighty FWM movie studio is about to expire, Fate throws her a lifeline. A young starlet confides in Edie that she was assaulted by a leading man at one of those Day of the Locust-type Hollywood parties. Edie wants justice for the starlet, but she also wants security for herself: Ultimately, she leverages the scandalous story to land a gossip column of her own. For the rest of her career, Edie has to walk a line: If she dishes too much dirt on the stars the studio gates will slam shut in her face.

Lynch also deftly walks a line here between telling a blunt "Me Too" story and serving up plenty of Turner Classics movie glamour. Edie herself is a more morally conflicted version of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons — the real-life gossip queens who were widely known as "the two most feared women in Hollywood." In her best lines, Edie also channels the wit of a Dorothy Parker: Recalling one of the vapid roles she played as an actress, Edie says: "The costume I wore had more character development than I did."

Do Tell could've have used some trimming of its Cecil B. DeMille-sized cast; but, its unsettling central story dramatizes just how far the tentacles of the old studio system intruded into every aspect of actors' lives.

Dwyer Murphy's novel, The Stolen Coast would make a perfect noir, especially if Golden Age idols Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer could be resurrected to play the leads. There's a real Out of the Past vibe to this moody tale of a femme fatale who returns to trouble the life of the guy she left behind and perhaps set him up for a final fall.

The Stolen Coast takes place in the present, in Onset, Mass., a down-at-its-heels village with a harbor "shaped like a teardrop" and two-room cottages "you could rent ... by the month, week, or night." Our main character and narrator is Jack Betancourt, a Harvard-educated lawyer nicknamed "the ferryman" because he makes his money ferrying people on the run into new lives. While his clients' false IDs and backstories are being hammered out, Jack stows them away in those vacation cottages around town. Jack's dad, a former spy, is his business partner.

One evening, to Jack's surprise, Elena turns up at the local tiki lounge. Elena's backstory makes crooked Jack seem like Dudley Do-Right. Some seven years earlier, Elena left town and forged her way into law school. Now she's engaged and about to make partner, but, no matter. Elena has her eyes on some diamonds that her boss has stashed in the safe of his vacation home nearby. Naturally, Elena needs Jack's help for the heist.

Murphy has the lonely saxophone notes of noir down cold in his writing. Here, for instance, is a passage where Jack reflects on how the villagers feed off his bored stowaways:

A great deal of the local economy was formed around time — how to use it up, how to save it, how to conceive of its passage. For every new arrival we ran, it often seemed there were three or four or five civilians sniffing around to learn what they could offer in the way of distraction or diversion. Drugs, cards, food, sex, companionship, fishing equipment.

It's surprising to me that Jack, who clearly has a poetic sensibility, doesn't mention books in that list. For many of us readers, books — like the two I've just talked about here — are the most reliable diversion of them all.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, is The Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She is an associate editor of and contributor to Mystery and Suspense Writers (Scribner) and the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Criticism, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. In 2019, Corrigan was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing by the National Book Critics Circle.
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