The cover art (a photocomposed piece by The Book Designers starting with a sumptuous Tetiana Lazunova photo) might make you think Donis Casey’s 2019 The Wrong Girl from Poisoned Pen Press is a romance or historical, but it’s a fooler. I saw the novel at more than one mystery fiction site, and though I hadn’t read any of Casey’s previous ten mysteries (the nineteen-teens Oklahoma-set Alafair Tucker mysteries), I planned to check it out. I was glad I did.
Split between pre-Dustbowl Oklahoma in 1921 and 1926 Hollywood, The Wrong Girl tells the story of rural small-town teen Blanche Tucker and the perilous adventures that lead her to Hollywood, then later, stardom as the mysterious fan-favorite Bianca Dangereuse, a silent film era daredevil adventuress and real life enigma. Chapters juxtapose Blanche/Bianca’s trek from desolate farmlands to the Hollywood Hills in 1921, with L.A. private eye Ted Oliver’s investigation into the discovery five years later of the skeletal remains of one Graham Peyton. Oliver’s digging into the death of that notorious rake, pimp and all-around hood for a local crime lord, while film star Bianca Dangereuse takes a peculiar interest in the case.
Writers accustomed to having their knuckles wrapped about the whole “show-don’t-tell” thing might be put off at first by author Donis Casey’s habit to tell. And tell and tell and tell and tell some more. But it works because Casey’s a very good storyteller, and The Wrong Girl reads like the writer is telling the story herself. In person. Some of it reads like a traditional vintage P.I. novel, some like a 1920’s silent adventure film. Neither cozy nor hard-boiled, the novel doesn’t fit neatly into any mystery/crime fiction sub-genre, (complete with silent film style title cards liberally inserted throughout the text) and whatever type of mystery-adventure tale you decide to call it, I bet you plow through this 230-page quick-read with a smile. I did. Casey closes The Wrong Girl with some narrative threads clearly unresolved and the tease: “Join us next time to find the answers to these questions and many others as we continue the adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, Episode 2”.
Okay, I’ll be there.