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In Deadly Production by Terry Odell, police chief Gordon Hepler gets called in to meet with the new mayor of Mapleton, who informs Gordon that a movie is about to be filmed in Mapleton and surrounding areas starting the next day. Marianna Spellman, the production manager, has everything planned out, dictating to Gordon exactly what she expects of him in a rather rude manner. The whole town gets excited at this prospect, especially because Cassidy Clark, a male heart throb, will appear in the movie and works his charms on the community. Angie, Gordon's lady friend and owner of Daily Bread, the cafe known for making the best cinnamon rolls in the world, is especially excited to learn that they intend to film using her cafe. The next morning, the production gets ready for its filming with the stand-ins and extras, but no one can find the two stand-ins. Someone suggests that they are in the wardrobe trailer, so one of the actresses goes there to look for them. A scream sends Gordon and others running after her to the trailer, where they find the body of Marianna.
It's not immediately clear whether Marianna's death is natural or murder, so they must investigate as if it is murder, just in case it isn't natural. But as they begin to investigate, they notice that several people, including Yolanda Orozco, the head of the wardrobe, appear to be missing. Further, after a while Gordon spots that Marianna's trailer has been jimmied open and trashed. But things get even more confusing when the coroner says the preliminary cause of death was that her heart stopped. But since all deaths ultimately are caused by the heart's stopping to beat, this doesn't help much. They will have to wait for the post-mortem the next day and a more detailed tox screen.
The pressure is on for the police department as they race to find a cause of death and a potential killer while the movie people are still in Mapleton. And the production company has become determined to leave in order to prevent its filming schedule from getting interrupted. When a local resident finds the missing Yolanda passed out in a side street, this adds greater support for the supposition that Marianna's death may not be natural.
This book kept me enthralled throughout. I enjoyed the premise of a film company coming to Mapleton, letting us see the pretty and ugly of the work behind the scenes in making a movie. The mystery kept me guessing, with a solution I did not expect at all. Further, the book demonstrates different degrees of human selfishness and selflessness, proving that people are not all good or all bad but rather a mixture. The conclusion to the book came as a startling ending, making me dread the words "The End" for fear the book might not have wrapped everything up. And in addition, I just didn't want this book to end.
As a minor detail, I really liked the idea behind the production of this movie. The film is being made to benefit mental health, and depression in particular. Thus, most of the stars are being paid the basic rate, while Cassidy Clark is donating his performance, working for free. The production is being done on a shoe string in order to maximize the amount of money that will go towards the charity. I admit not to be very aware of movie issues, but I have never heard of a group of A- list stars making a movie for charity like this. I did attend a one-night-only performance of A-list stars doing a reader's theater of Hemingway's Nick Adams Stories for one of Paul Newman's charities while he was still alive, but the script would not have required much rehearsal, and a live drama did not have the reach that a film would have. I like the concept of a movie made for charity and hope Hollywood will pick up on the idea.
I was less impressed by the character development of this book than in the previous three books, which did especially excellent jobs in the character development. However, this time we really see Gordon's second in command, Ed Solomon, come into his own, as he uses his own time to pursue what seems like a crazy theory of a mass killer. Eager to stay involved in all aspects of the investigation, Solomon is happy even with his hands in the trash.
Steve Marvel returns to narrate this book and once again does an outstanding job of breathing life into this already-strong book. Marvel does such a good job that we lose sight of the fact that we are listening to just one man read a book to us. Instead we feel that we are listening to a concert of voices.
Deadly Production may not be the best of the Mapleton books to come out, but the standard set by the previous books is so high that this book still is excellent! I give this book five stars!