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Hot Book Review: ‘City of Angles’ by Jonathan Leaf

In Jonathan Leaf’s debut novel, City of Angles (available now from Bombardier Publishing), a rising starlet finds a movie star’s body in her trunk and has to figure out who put it there.

Vincenza has just written and starred in an indie film that is about to become a sensation. When she goes to her car on her way to an audition and finds the body of movie star — and her occasional lover — Tom Selva in the back, it starts us down a winding road of a tale that spends as much time on its characters’ involvement with show business as it does on the plot itself.

But then, the story is really only part of what’s going on here. The book purports to be a murder mystery, but is really about Hollywood. Leaf bites off a lot in telling the story, with an ensemble of main characters and an insider’s take on how the town works that could potentially alienate some, and yet he pulls it off with an accessible style that never takes the reader for granted.

Leaf is a successful playwright, and his prose sometimes reads that way. If he has a weakness as a storyteller, it’s that he has a tendency to overwrite, spending a paragraph on something when a line or two would do. That said, his insights into the lives of the people who populate his Los Angeles are pretty spot on. Aside from VIncenza, there is Claire, another writer/actress, as well as Billy the writer, David the lawyer/fixer for a religious cult that greatly resembles Scientology, Todd the studio exec and others, all of whom pop off the page with lives that feel fully fleshed out.

Bringing his characters to life is certainly one of the author’s strengths, as is the way he portrays the absurdity of this town. In fact, if the novel does one thing exceptionally well, it’s that it perfectly captures the spirit and madness of Hollywood, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to try to begin to understand how it operates.

City of Angles is a solid if unspectacular mystery, though the identity of the killer is telegraphed sooner than the author probably intended. Where it truly succeeds is in its dissection and examination of a city where people are always searching for the angle. Though his characters don’t always find it, Leaf does, and in a very consistent and entertaining way.

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