BY: RAY DYSON
Neil Brand is a former World War I soldier and disgraced ex-cop, now running security for Harry York at York Brothers Studio in 1931 Hollywood. York has a problem with bad boy actor Johnny Cutter, who failed to show up on the set to finish his latest picture, and Brand is sent to find the star. In doing so, Brand uncovers a trail of white slavery, drugs, and murder, involving famous actors and wealthy businessmen—and a dirty cop who was once Brand’s partner on the force. As the body count mounts, Brand tries desperately to discover the truth—before he becomes one of the victims.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Ice Cream Blonde by Ray Dyson, Neil Brand is a former cop turned private detective/security specialist for a Hollywood studio in the 1930s. His job is to protect the studio from bad publicity—at any cost. When one of the studio’s most famous actors fails to show up on the set of his latest picture, Brand is sent to investigate. What he uncovers is a lot more than either he or the studio had bargained for, including murder, missing women, and organized crime. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the good guys and the bad guys are.
The Ice Cream Blonde is reminiscent of an old black and white movie, taking you back to a simpler time of gumshoes and the great depression. The author’s voice is fresh and, for the time period, very authentic. I felt as if I had stepped back in time. It’s a great book for a rainy afternoon when life is just too stressful and you need to escape into a great story.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Ice Cream Blonde by Ray Dyson is the story of 1930s Hollywood, its actors, their indiscretions, and what the studios did to keep those indiscretions from becoming public knowledge. Our hero, Neil Brand, is a former disgraced cop who now works for a Hollywood studio, and whose job it is to keep the studio from getting any bad publicity. To accomplish this, he dives into the underworld of organized crime, murder, drug addicts, and those who think their money and fame make them above the law.
The Ice Cream Blonde is told in a blunt, honest, and gritty voice that fits the story to a tee. The character development is superb, the plot strong, fast-paced, and tension-filled. It held my interest from the very first word.
Wednesday, September 16, 1931:
The day he died, Johnny Cutter was the most popular motion picture star in Hollywood. Tall and athletic, charming and urbane, dashing and magnetic–his flashing dark eyes could pierce any woman’s soul right down to where she lived.
But just now those dreamy eyes were as cold as yesterday’s breakfast.
It was just past four o’clock. The hot day cooled quickly this high in the hills. The sun balanced awkwardly on the top of dark mountains, apparently undecided on its next move. A breeze carried the faint perfume of the lilac bushes forming a perfect line twenty yards west of the dark red flagstones circling the L-shaped swimming pool. Long shadows danced across the pool and across a man’s body gently bobbing face down like a discarded sack of bleached flour. Slamming car doors set off a Chinese gong inside my head. A gleaming red and black Rolls Royce Tourer hummed down the long, winding drive shaded by groomed Coulter pines. A similarly painted Packard roadster tucked in close behind the Rolls.
The cars faded into the pines. The gong rupturing my head turned into cannon fire. Monday night, a thug cop with a homicidal grudge had tried to split open my melon with a crowbar, or maybe something harder. He’d never know how close he came to cracking my egg. Even so, I was still upright and still thinking–if that’s what you want to call it–while a dogged Hun tirelessly fired off the Big Bertha inside my head.
I squeezed my eyes shut against the torture and went inside the sprawling ranch house to find the blower. The proper call would have been to the sheriff, but Harry York did not want the county boys mixing in. When Harry York bought somebody, he expected them to stay bought. The county boys sometimes had a problem with that.
The LA buttons burned their tires getting to Johnny Cutter’s gated estate at the edge of the Santa Monica foothills. The bulls showed up in four black and white radio cars, the dull black meat wagon tagging behind. Short, rotund Detective Sergeant Harvey Pelz slid off the shotgun seat of the lead car and began barking orders. He eased his overloaded frame onto a wicker patio chair painted soft yellow, lit a smoke, and coldly eyed the scene while a rubber-faced scarecrow with a shiny buzzer pinned to his sunken chest fished the late picture star out of the water. Occasionally, Pelz turned his head to where I sat in a light blue Adirondack chair under the shade of a purple jacaranda, his dark eyes burning through me. His body had the vague shape of a Christmas tree and looked like five pounds of unpeeled potatoes in a four-pound bag. His nose resembled a plump prune painted bright red and plopped in the middle of a pie face set off by heavy jowls and a thick neck. His chocolate fedora was pushed back to expose a long, shiny forehead. I had no beef with Harvey Pelz. The only beef he had with me was that I got kicked off the force for taking a bribe.
Pelz watched the coroner’s boys stretch out Cutter’s body along the side of the pool. A man I knew as the assistant medical examiner bent briefly over the body, and then the scarecrow covered Cutter with a black sheet. Pelz fished another cigarette out of his vest pocket, stuck a wooden match to it, tossed the match into the pool, and ambled my way. I didn’t get up to greet him. My head hurt too much to stand.
“You found the body?”
I did not expect a friendly greeting. I didn’t need one. I shook my damaged head just enough for Pelz to understand the answer and waited.
“He runs publicity for York Studio.”
“Where is he?”
“Where’d he go? You should know better than to let him leave.”
“He went to see the coroner.”
“That’s what Harry York wanted.”
The name Jimmy Gallen meant no more than an empty bottle to Pelz, but he knew about Harry York.
I shook my head again. “He left just ahead of Gallen.”
“Leaving you to handle his business?”
“Harry handles his own business.”
“I want to talk to him.”
“You’ll get a call from the DA before Cutter’s body dries.”
“That where York went?”
“Right now, he’s holding the DA’s hand. Maybe the mayor’s, too, and the police chief’s.”
Pelz swore and threw down his gasper. He ground it out with the heel of his little brogan and jerked a thumb toward the distant front gate.
“You’re okay to leave.”
“Sorry. Harry wants me to stay and keep an eye on the silverware. Newspaper boys will be here soon. I expect the DA to show up and get his picture taken.”
“I could have you thrown out.”
I grinned and shook my head. A uniformed cop yelled at Pelz, who swore again and waddled back to the pool. The uniform said a couple of words to Pelz and the sergeant climbed into the lead radio car. He spent a few minutes on the two-way, got out of the car, and nodded at the scarecrow.
Four cops lifted Cutter’s sheet-draped body and loaded it into the meat wagon. Pelz walked back to the jacaranda and eyed me bitterly while he lit a Pall Mall. The meat wagon fired up and headed down the drive.
“Your boss did his work. Coroner already ruled it accidental drowning without taking his feet off his desk. DA’s on his way and the vultures won’t be far behind.”
“Sounds like you’re okay to leave.”
“Don’t push it, Brand. I got no use for you.”
A woodpecker lit into a nearby tree trunk off to my right. I must have moved my head too quickly at the sudden noise. A hard throb hit me and I flinched. Pelz stood slightly to my left and the jerking of my head must have given him a good look. He stepped closer and to my left.
“Damn!” A hard look crossed his face, followed quickly by a grin. “Who did that? I’d like to shake his hand.”
“I expect you have.”
“The uniform wants you.”
I motioned behind Pelz. The sergeant turned to see the uniform waving for him again.
“Too bad whoever did that wasn’t stronger,” Pelz said over his shoulder. He muttered a couple of words I didn’t understand. I was clenching my teeth against the roaring in my head.
I stared blankly at the reddening sky and let the cool breeze caress my face. Pelz and his boys got comfortable by the pool and a few of them wandered into Cutter’s house. The woodpecker kept at it awhile then fell silent. Not much stirred until the newspaper boys–some bristling with pen and paper, others fiddling with bulky Speed Graphic press cameras–fetched the circus. The DA showed, with Gallen in tow but not Harry. The DA could glom a photo opportunity as easy as he could smell ripe money. The newspaper boys would climb all over Cutter’s death, but the stuff that would get printed would only be sweet and sycophantic, no matter how deep into that muck they trundled. I could have wired them and might have if somebody had only asked. Pelz should have, but he was never much of a thinker.
The truth was plain and simple. Just a few hours before the coroner’s boys dragged Cutter from his pool, the late heartthrob took his final fade-out in his big, round bed–cold and naked and as dry as Dorothy Parker’s wit.
I had a front row seat to the whole sweet deal.
© 2015 by Ray Dyson