Private investigator Rory Byrne, has gained a reputation as someone the elite of New York City can trust to solve their problems quickly and quietly. So when a hotshot television producer hires him to recover a stolen script, Rory isn’t surprised that he’ll need to go undercover on the set of a historical drama. He has his hands full trying to investigate a skeptical and agitated crew while they work around the clock on The Bowery, a new show which promises to shake up the television industry.
To make a delicate situation even more complicated, the production is led by out-and-proud Marion Roosevelt and Rory is downright smitten with the handsome and talented actor. But every member of the crew and cast is a suspect in the theft. And as Rory investigates, Marion’s behavior grows increasingly suspicious. Then the murders start.
If Rory is to find the thief before The Bowery is cancelled, he’ll have to share his identity with the one man on set he can’t trust—Marion Roosevelt.
Lights. Camera. Murder. originally appeared in the Footsteps in the Dark anthology from 2019 (along with stories from Josh Lanyon, Dal Maclean, S.C. Wynne, Z.A. Maxfield and others) – and as I’ve had good experiences with C.S. Poe’s work lately, I thought I’d give this novella a go for the January “quickie” prompt. I enjoyed the story, and was pleased to learn that the author is writing a sequel/series set in the same world with the same lead characters.
PI Rory Byrne has gained a reputation as the go-to guy for people who need their problems solved quickly and quietly. He’s very good at what he does and is something of a workaholic – which accounts for his string of ex-boyfriends, most of whom left when they got fed up with playing second fiddle to his job.
The story opens with Rory being hired by a ‘hot shot’ (in Rory-speak, that’s “Royal Pain in the Ass”) television producer to investigate the theft of a script. John Anderson is the producer of a new TV show being filmed in Queens called The Bowery – an historical drama set in turn-of-the-century New York centred around an Irish gang leader who is in a committed same-sex relationship. Anderson is planning on branching out and has written a pilot for what he says is a bigger, edgier and better show than The Bowery – but it’s gone missing and he’s sure it’s been stolen. The job is a bit out of Rory’s usual line – it’s on a live film set, likely an inside job, there are literally hundreds of suspects (basically the entire cast and crew) – and he only has a few days to solve the case.
So Rory goes undercover as a PA (production assistant) and immediately, all the tensions – both on and off set – hierarchies and petty politics that come with working in such a high-pressure, high-profile environment become apparent. The key PA is an arsehole, the Production Manager clearly doesn’t like the on-set production crew, there’s obvious hostility between the director and lead actor Marion Roosevelt… nobody’s talking, everybody’s nervous – and then in the midst of it all, one of the crew is murdered.
Lights, Camera, Murder is a well-crafted and engaging read, despite its small page-count. The mystery is intriguing, with enough twists, turns and red herrings to keep it interesting without going over the top, and although the secondary characters are drawn with broad strokes they have depth and individuality. Rory is the PoV character, so he’s the one we get to know the best, and he’s hard-bitten in a very noir-ish kind of way (I admit that when I first saw the cover, I though the story was set in the 1950s); he’s in his forties and has been there, done that several times, and the one constant in his life is his cat Gary (a total scene-stealer). He isn’t too worried about his poor track record with relationships, although meeting Marion makes him start to wonder if maybe it’s time he made some changes and stopped getting in his own way.
Marion is almost twenty years younger than Rory, he’s gorgeous, charming, super-talented, sweet and savvy; he’s landed the role of a lifetime in The Bowery and feels passionately about the opportunity it’s given him to deliver a positive portrayal of a strong queer character in love. Sparks fly between him and Rory from the moment they meet and their romance gets off to a promising start. I confess though, that had this been a standalone and not the start of a series, I might have found it a bit rushed.
The writing flows smoothly and Ms. Poe does a great job when it comes to describing the day-to-day working of a bustling movie set. I always enjoy her wry humour – and she gets extra brownie points for Gary the cat, whose utter “cat-ness” clearly signals someone Who Knows Cats.
Lights, Camera, Murder is an entertaining whodunit with a touch of romance, and although short, it reaches a satisfying conclusion and feels ‘complete’. I’m looking forward to reading what the author has in store for Rory and Marion next.