Guy Bolton’s The Syndicate (London: Oneworld Publications, 2018)

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In ‘The Syndicate’ Detective Jonathan Crane returns to crime-solving in Hollywood, but this time from the outside, without a basis in either MGM  or the LAPD. After the death of his MGM movie star wife in ‘The Pictures’ and the subsequent trauma that followed, Detective Jonathan Craine retired to a farm where he’s living quietly with his son Michael, all grown up now and wanting to go into the army but too young still to do it without his father’s permission. However, just when Jonathan thinks he’s escaped his former life,  they reel him back in. Meyer Lansky has sent thugs to kidnap his son and Craine has no choice but to work for the mob. He’s got five days to find out who killed Bugsy Siegel.

I read the novel in one go last night. It’s beautifully structured and delicately balanced between fact and fiction. It’s so well researched that the the LA ‘zoot suit riots’, the foundation of Las Vegas, the mob’s involvement in the Unions, the House of Un-American Activities, the changing studio system, the newly enhanced role of the FBI and much more not only make an appearance but are intricately woven into the plot. Soldiers returning uneasily to civilian life and the relations between fathers and sons are recurring and well-developed themes.

The fictional world is one of sunshine noir, of the glamorous and rich of Bel Air, but also the newspaper world of the period, one that encompasses the poor black neighbourhoods and is also conscious of the politics of race and gender.  This dark but glamorous fictional world is lent sparkle by  appearances from L.B. Mayer, George Raft, Judy Garland,  Humphrey Bogart and other glittering stars of the Hollywood firmament of the immediate post-war period.

The great and convincing conceit of this book is that it offers an imaginative, sideways but satisfying resolution to what remains the unsolved murder of Bugsy Siegel.  Riveting as well as touching. ‘The Syndicate’ is a page turner with depth. For those of you who are already fans of Bolton and Craine from ‘The Pictures’, this is even better.

José Arroyo

 

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