Hollywood, 1945. Ben Collier has just arrived from war-torn Europe to find his brother has died in mysterious circumstances. Why would a man with a beautiful wife, a successful movie career, and a heroic past choose to kill himself?
Ben enters the uneasy world beneath the glossy shine of the movie business, where politics and the dream factories collide and Communist witch hunts are rendering the biggest star makers vulnerable. Even here, where the devastation of Europe seems no more real than a painted movie set, the war casts long and dangerous shadows. When Ben learns troubling facts about his own family's past and embarks on a love affair that never should have happened, he is caught in a web of deception that shakes his moral foundation to its core.
Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Stardust flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller evoking both the glory days of the movies and the emergence of a dark strain of American political life.
"Spectacular in every way.... wonderfully imagined, wonderfully written, an urgent personal mystery set against the sweep of glamorous and sinister history. Joseph Kanon owns this corner of the literary landscape and it's a joy to see him reassert his title with such emphatic authority." (Lee Child)
"The new Joe Kanon is one of the best, Stardust is the perfect combination of intrigue and accurate history brought to life." (Alan Furst)
"Stardust is sensational! No one writes period fiction with the same style and suspense - not to mention substance - as Joseph Kanon. A terrific read." (Scott Turow)
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Joseph Kanon owns this little corner of history.
It's very good, but not among the top fifty, given that I've read about a thousand books, and I don't really enjoy history. Mr. Kanon, though, is a master of this little corner of the world, and Mr. Smith, whom I've never heard before, is a truly excellent narrator. The scope of the book is very large. It is about Hollywood during the period when WWII was turning into the Red Scare of the late '40's and early '50's, what came to be known as the McCarthy era. The protagonist is Ben Collier, a soldier who comes home to find that his brother Danny has died mysteriously, either at his own hand or that of another. Ben doesn't believe that his brother would kill himself. Ben very quickly becomes involved with Danny's widow, Liesl, and with the head of a movie studio, Carl Laszner. From there the plot winds around the hills and canyons of Los Angeles, with Minnesota's Senator Ken Minot standing in for Wisconsin's Senator McCarthy. The vicious hysteria which is whipped up by the anti-pinko forces is unstoppable, and it eventually comes very close to destroying the entertainment industry, taking with it, one cannot fail to note, the large expat Jewish community which has become the backbone of that industry. This is extremely good writing and narration, and held my interest in what eventually became a long book.
Yes, very much so, as I said above. The romance between Ben and Liesl is beautifully played, with the reader never really knowing what is real and what is scripted. The weasels of The Committee worm their way through the community in such a subversive and nasty way that you can easily see how good people can get caught up in the vicious finger-pointing, so very much the echo of Nazi Jew-blaming (and so very much worse, so horrendously much worse). The plot jumps around from LA to Europe to Mexico and back again, and you find yourself constantly looking over Ben's shoulder, whispering to him, "watch out, they're real!" It is brilliant writing.
I didn't have a favorite scene. I was particularly pleased with the narrator's ability to put the small touches on the German attempts on English words, making characters sound so much like Colonel Klink. The book is a pleasure to listen to, even at this length, where many authors would really start to push their luck with me (ahem, Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke).
A lot of the book moved me. Much of the romance between Ben and Liesl was just perfectly nuanced, full of lust and the awareness of Danny and the confusion that comes with feelings that most of us don't really understand. So many of us try to make "sense" of love, when, according to the scriptwriter of the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, "It is a fool who searches for logic in the chambers of the human heart." Wish I'd said that.
This audiobook is way worth your time and money.
- Richard Delman