08 July 2024

Towles in Hollywood

One of the oldest plot lines in the canon is the one about the old guy who comes back to triumph. From the days of the old war horse and the old samurai to the old gunslinger, the old spy and the old cop, the age and experience of a supposedly washed-up guy turns out to trump vain and overconfident youth in these stories.

Guy, that is, as in masculine. I am sure there are some mysteries where the surprisingly capable older character is female, but lets face it: the pattern for the older woman sleuth was set by Miss Marple, who appears to have been born complete with her spectacles, sweaters, and skepticism. 

The females in the plots under consideration tend to be young and beautiful with surprising tastes in May-December romances. While I am old enough to enjoy the triumph of age over youth, I feel a certain impatience with what are clearly fantasy plots based on masculine wishful thinking.

So it was with real pleasure that I discovered Eve in Hollywood, a short novel tucked into Amor Towles' new collection of stories, Table for Two. He's taken Eve Ross, a character from his 30's New York novel, The Rules of Civility, sent her to Hollywood at the height of the studio system, and landed her right in Raymond Chandler territory. It's a good move.

Eve is great: brave, intelligent and loyal. And like almost all Towles's characters, she is a charmer. Indeed, charm is almost the hallmark of this author, whose characters are almost uniformly entertaining, eloquent, and appealing. His particular talent has seldom been on such varied display as in Eve in Hollywood.

Besides Eve, we have Charlie, the widowed and retired cop who meets her on the train west. He's returning home from New Jersey when he chats with Eve, regaling this eager listener (how different from his chilly and bored daughter-in-law!) with tales from his professional past. They won't be wasted on this gal.

No sooner have we met Charlie, then we are introduced to another supposed has been, Prentice, a once important screen actor who, literally, ate himself out of stardom. Prentice still has an eye for pretty starlets, though, and, more importantly, a genuine and protective sympathy for actors on the lower rungs of the treacherous Hollywood ladder. 

He and Charlie are going to be our comeback guys but with a difference. No cliched feats of derring do from these two, and plenty of mistakes, wobbles, and mishaps, and plenty of help accepted from younger friends. No age-inappropriate romancing, either. These are realistic older guys, and their great moments are all the more satisfying for being almost entirely plausible. 

The book is unusual in structure as well as in theme, being organized in short chapters, each from a different point of view. We get Eve, Charlie, and Prentice, but also a wide range of other voices and characters, from Olivia (de Haviland, a real golden age actress) to an out of work still photographer, a big time studio lawyer, and the house detective at fancy Beverly Hills Hotel where Eve, Olivia, and Prentice are residents. 

This design requires tricky plotting to keep the action moving, and Eve in Hollywood is a real master class in structure as well as in differentiating characters' speech and outlooks. But far from being a novelty ornament, the organization of the novel is a fine complement to the plot, which relies less on individual heroics and super hero skills than on the cooperation and courage of folks of ability and good will.  

This novel began as a Penguin Books ebook and as a print edition, apparently published by Towles, himself, while one of the stories was an Audible original: signs that even best selling, big name authors are dabbling in new ways to reach audiences.


Janice Law's The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen, with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations, is available from Apple Books at:


The Dictator's Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations is available at: 



  1. I am definitely going to have to look that book up. Thanks, Janice!

  2. Oh what a line so many of us can relate to: "I feel a certain impatience with what are clearly fantasy plots based on masculine wishful thinking." Why is it we rarely see fantasy plots based on female wishful thinking? smile. Will look up that book, Janice! Melodie

  3. I'm at a disadvantage as I admit I haven't read Towles' novels. Although I don't think of them as washed-up, a few older women investigators I like are Hetty Wainthropp, one of B.K. Steven's series characters, and of course your own Madame Selina.

  4. Very kind of you to mention Madame S!


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