Review: Rita Farmer, a part-time actress, had her charge card declined at the grocery store and pawned Grandma Gladys's brooch for $400, which might put food on the table for herself and Petey, her four-year-old son, but it won't cover the late rent. But after her puppet performance for story time at the L.A. Public Library, she meets defense attorney Gary Kwan who offers her a difficult but lucrative job using her acting expertise to help his client appear more sympathetic to a jury. The media and public seem to have already convicted Eileen Tenaway who is beautiful, rich and accused of murdering her 18-month-old daughter. No easy task since Rita finds her cold and unfeeling, but for a thousand dollars a day and a bonus if she's acquitted, Rita will give it her all.
But that's just part of what's going on here. Eileen's husband, Richard, a Los Angeles jewel magnate, turned up dead in Brazil and a lot of gems went missing. Eileen and Richard's business partner received a fat payment from the insurance company. But George Rowe, an insurance investigator, suspects there's more to the story, and perhaps Richard faked his death. George travels to Brazil to research details of the case and recruits Rita, whose life and that of her son, might soon depend on her finding out the truth of Richard's disappearance, the missing gems and who killed the little girl.
Elizabeth Sims has created a wonderful character and a terrific start to a new series with Rita Farmer and The Actress. It's easy to sympathize with Rita's situation especially given today's economic circumstances, but above and beyond that she's funny, loving, insecure, smart and tough when she needs to be: calling Eileen a bitch in one of their early meetings to elicit an emotional response. Rita has a lively supporting cast as well in her best friend Daniel a gay man with whom she can talk about everything including men; Gary Kwan, a flashy, smart defense attorney for whom she has a serious attraction; George Rowe, the fiercely determined and quirky investigator and Jeff, her easy-to-dislike ex-husband who has much to do with her self-esteem and wants to use Rita's financial situation as a means to gain custody of their son. Pfew!
Sims has written a tightly plotted tale with multiple layers. The story maintains a fast pace except for a few places in the middle, but it's not enough to distract from the story's enjoyment. The sassy Rita takes some risks that seem a bit out of character, but perhaps none of us thinks too clearly about our actions when our loved ones are in danger.
The narrative switches viewpoints from Rita's first-person voice to other characters in the third-person. This technique works especially well near the end when Sims switches back and forth between two simultaneously gripping situations, keeping the reader on pins and needles as to the resolutions. She uses all of our senses to bring the book's settings to life from the sounds of the waves of traffic at the corner of Santa Monica and Rodeo where Rita frequently has consultations with Grandma Gladys's spirit to the smell of the pawn shop and the feel of Petey's soft skin. The dialogue rings true, especially the quips Rita shares with her best friend, Daniel. The plot has an engrossing complexity with lots of characters to keep track of and some surprises for the reader to discover. I look forward to reading The Extra, the second book in the series, due out this spring.
Special thanks to Katherine Petersen for contributing her review of The Actress.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Katherine Petersen — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in The Actress: Los Angeles, Hollywood, California
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The Actress by Elizabeth Sims — A Rita Farmer Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $24.95