Scandal in Babylon, by Barbara Hambly (Severn House)
I loved Barbara Hambly’s Bride of the Rat God, a
fantasy set in Roaring 1920s Hollywood. Now she returns to that era, with its
glamorous silent film stars, bootleggers, gangsters, drug use, widespread
corruption, and the frenzied exuberance that followed World War I. In this
story, a murder mystery (without Bride’s supernatural elements) the
viewpoint character is Emma, a young British widow who now works as a companion
and secretary for her superstar sister-in-law, Kitty. Classically trained, Emma
is constantly affronted by the wildly inaccurate movie scripts (Kitty is
currently starring in The Empress of Babylon), many of which she is
called upon to rewrite on the spur of the moment. She’s also embarked on a
possible new romance with cameraman Zak. To complicate matters further, Kitty’s
real life is as melodramatic as her screen characters. She is a generous person
for all her antics, especially loving to her three adorable Pekinese. When
Kitty’s dissolute ex-husband, Rex, is found murdered, it looks very much as if
someone is trying to set Kitty up to take the blame and is doing a very bad job
of it. A deliberately bad job?
Drenched in atmosphere and fascinating historical details,
featuring vivid characters and snappy dialog, Scandal in Babylon is
Hambly at the top of her form. The pacing and depth of the scenes are
wonderful, just the right combination of page-turning action, whodunit tension,
and moments of reflection and personal growth.
Rumor has it that Scandal in Babylon will be the
first of a new series. If so, sign me up!