The Silver Blonde
The Silver Blonde
A noise from outside, and a streak of fear seized Clara. She backed away from vault five as she would a cliff’s edge. She braced herself against the corridor wall. Adrenaline kicked in and she was moving, retracing her steps, hand on the wall for support, as though she were in a rocking train carriage.
Outside, the scent of jasmine sent her reeling – its cloying sweetness masking something rotten. She was running, stumbling in her suede pumps toward the postproduction building. Like an earthquake, the ground seemed to roll beneath her, asphalt turned to ocean.
Fumbling with the key, she burst into the office and lunged for the phone, scattering Miss Simkin’s paperwork. She heard her voice ask for security, and the switchboard connected her to the front gate. He picked up right away. “Joe, it’s Clara in the archive.” Her voice was unfamiliar; she could hear the hint of her old accent. “There’s a woman in the vault.” Her mind was still trying to reconcile what she had seen. “Barbara Bannon, she—she’s dead.”
Clara Berg is just beginning to realize her dreams. She is a vault runner at Silver Pacific Studios in Hollywood, and a promotion to the editing department appears to be in store. The 18-year-old daughter of German refugees who fled the looming Nazi regime in 1938, Clara has made a place for herself in America in only eight years. This changes drastically when both Clara’s personal and professional life are turned upside down. Her parents decide that the family should return to Germany now that the war is over. And, at work, Clara finds a body when she heads to the vault to return the reels of the current film production. When the police seem to give up on solving the murder, Clara becomes ever more determined to find out details about the woman she found in order to bring her killer to justice.
Elizabeth Ross has created an intelligent and likeable main character as the driving force in this historical murder mystery. Clara relishes her independence and is eager to separate from her parents and work her way up the ladder in the film industry from being a mere vault runner to working in film editing. She has a keen sense of justice, shown by her insistence on fighting for the ‘little guy’ in a place where the big film stars are always the centre of attention. Her dogged persistence means she will do whatever is necessary to find out the truth.
There is a huge cast of characters in the novel, with most of them working in the various roles required to make a motion picture. Ross gives her readers a good understanding of the behind-the-scenes action in the film industry. One of the only characters to be fleshed out is Gil, a veteran of World War II who works as a screenwriter. He fills the roles of both amateur detective beside Clara and her love interest in the novel. As well, the author hints at Gil’s difficulties coping with memories of the war, the mental health issue we now know as PTSD.
Fans of the murder mystery genre will enjoy Ross’s well-planned whodunit as she builds suspense throughout the novel up to an exciting climax. As in all good mysteries, there are a number of red herrings, and readers will enjoy trying to figure out exactly who committed the crime and why. Ross’s amateur detectives realize they will have to delve into the pasts of many people at the film studio in order to solve the case.
The Silver Blonde is also a wonderful historical novel, and Ross is able to take her readers back in time to 1940’s Hollywood and the era of film noir. References to pre-war Germany help set the stage for the plot and will provide readers with interesting and important context. Politics of the 1940’s in America come alive with Ross’s including themes such as American isolationism and the ever-increasing problem of antisemitism. Young adult readers will be further introduced to real events through Ross’s portrayal of Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. The novel also points out that some Hollywood problems never go away, such as the pressure on young female stars and the ongoing issue of the infamous ‘casting couch’.
The end of the book includes an author’s note which helps readers with the historical context of the novel. There is also a glossary of film terms and a filmography of 10 famous film noir movies from the 1940’s.
The Silver Blonde will have wide appeal both to young adults and to older readers who are fans of Hollywood and film history. Those who enjoy a good murder mystery won’t be disappointed, and there is just enough romance to add yet another layer to the book. While the murder is eventually solved and the ending is satisfying, it seems there might be more to learn about Clara and some of the other characters. Readers can only hope that Elizabeth Ross will provide a sequel!
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.