“Delightful.…In flashbacks, Dawson does a fine job bringing WWII-era Los Angeles to life.” —Publishers Weekly (2/28/11) What now remains of Hollywood's Golden Era? A wealth of publicity materials was distributed nationwide to theaters, but they were usually treated as rubbish and disposed of when each movie finished its run. However, a surprising number of posters, still production photos, lobby cards, inserts, title cards, and the like have survived, and some of these memorabilia are of enormous value to collectors. Like any objects of value, these occasionally motivate crimes—sometimes even murder. PI Jeri Howard scours Northern California from the Bay Area to Sonoma County to the Eastern Sierra, trying to connect events of sixty years ago with the murder of a prominent arts patron and avid collector of Hitchcock memorabilia—and learns a lot about her grandmother’s years as a bit player in Hollywood along the way. With frequent flashbacks to the late 1930s and early ’40s, Bit Player features the life of bit player Jerusha Layne, who may figure in the unsolved murder of an aspiring leading man.
In Dawson's delightful 10th Jeri Howard mystery (after 2000's A Killing at the Track), the elderly proprietor of a movie memorabilia shop in Alameda, Calif., overhears PI Jeri mention her actress grandmother, Jerusha Layne, who went to Hollywood in 1937 and played extras in films like the MGM costume drama Marie Antoinette. The man informs Jeri that Jerusha dated and later had an unfriendly parting from British actor Ralph Tarrant and may have had more than a bit role in Tarrant's unsolved 1942 murder. A skeptical Jeri, knowing Jerusha met her grandfather in 1941 and married him in '42, digs into her grandmother's past, starting with the roommates with whom Jerusha shared a bungalow. Meanwhile, Jeri has to wonder if someone is willing to commit murder in the present-day over two golden era movie posters. In flashbacks, Dawson does a fine job bringing WWII-era Los Angeles to life.