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Hollywood Lies by David Ambrose
(Pan, £5.99, paperback)

This collection of short stories is drawn from the darker, obsessive, professionally mendacious side of Hollywood. Only two of the seven stories can be easily identified as science fiction or horror, the rest are what might be termed 'human interest drama', but their tight focus on a seamy, neurotic world of deceit gives them a strong air of the surreal.

Ambrose writes well, and knows his subject; Hollywood with its freaks and groupies, its wheeler-dealer producers and ego-tripping stars is laid out in lavish and sometimes bitter detail; from the heights of Marilyn Monroe's scandalous affair with Jack Kennedy to the depths of the insane asylum where ex-screen icons languish in lonely madness. Or do they? Ambrose loves mysterious endings and his characters not only lie to each other, but possibly to us too. Plainly the aim is to leave the reader with a lingering sense of doubt, a frisson of uncertainty...

Perhaps this is why the stories did not really reach me. Ambrose was too obviously trying to inflict long-lasting psychological puzzles. Sometimes, as in the title story of the collection, "Hollywood Lies", where a fading producer is protected by a benevolent conspiracy from the knowledge that he's been diagnosed with a terminal illness, this works well. The gradual unravelling of the conspiracy is full of nasty twists and sudden crashes through which the protagonist continues to shine with a surprising integrity. Though one does not know his future one leaves him on good terms. In other cases, such as "The Fame that Dare Not Speak Its Name", an everyday tale of lovelorn porn stars, it doesn't, because Ambrose chooses not just to conceal the future from us, but important parts of the past as well, and we are left with too much uncertainty.

Hollywood Lies is sometimes intriguing, but less than one fifth as absorbing as its cover blurb claims.

This review was first published in the British Fantasy Society newsletter,
Prism, Jan/Feb 2000.

Review by Simeon Shoul.

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© Simeon Shoul 16 June 2001