“Reel Stuff” is the seventh entry in Don Bruns’ “Stuff” series, but for all of his prior time spent with sometimes private investigators Skip Moore and James Lessor, the overwhelming feel of the novel feels disingenuous, almost as if he doesn’t know his characters at all, or at least doesn’t care to advance them beyond a few oft-repeated bits of detail.
“Reel Stuff” is told through the eyes of Skip Moore, a twenty-something who spends most of his days selling security systems, but moonlights as a P.I. with his long-time pal and roommate James Lessor, and more often than not with plenty of help from his girlfriend Emily. When Skip and James land a gig working security for the duration of an outdoor location shoot for an episode of a struggling procedural television show called “Deadline: Miami” they are thrilled for the shot at some easy money. But when revered actor Jason Londell meets his untimely death, by apparent suicide during shooting, Lessor and Moore find themselves commissioned by beautiful starlet, Ashley Amber to find out if there is more to Londell’s death than meets the eye. The resulting investigation leads Skip and Em to Hollywood, where the latter goes undercover as an aspiring actress, so she and the fellas can probe inside Hollywood to find a killer.
In theory, “Reel Stuff” mashes up the intrigue of a murder mystery with the glamor of Hollywood, but the actual narrative never manages to fully scratch the itch for a puzzling caper not for the bright lights of Tinseltown. The pieces of the puzzle are there, and they fit, but the tale never inspires much sense of urgency for them to do so.
Though Bruns drops in film references and famous names, the Hollywood vibe frequently feels forced. The temptation to create interaction between his heroine, Em, and big names like Leonardo DiCaprio is understandable, but the presumably desired sensation of surrealism is no where to be found when such moments crop up, rather the reader is reminded of those very real icons and the world Bruns is attempting to populate falls away. Suddenly, Jason Londell, whose death we should want to know more about is just another character. The bits of reality so forcibly woven into the fiction ultimately have the effect of pulling the reader out of the reality of the novel.
While that is a fairly minor quarrel, what is more significant is the fact that “Reel Stuff” at times feels like an exercise in redundancy. Whether that is a lack of trust in the reader, or a lack of new information to present is uncertain, but whatever the reason, repetition is a factor in multiple ways.
Often times it feels as if the reader is presented with the same piece of information two or three different ways one right after the other, and so frequently are we reminded that Em is too beautiful and too good for Skip that we begin to question the veracity of their relationship.
The reader is likewise treated to frequent reminders that Skip doesn’t make much money, is young and probably wouldn’t have solved most of his previous cases without the help of this girlfriend. Which begs the question, if Skip and James have solved at least six previous cases of enough fascination and complexity to fill books, why don’t they have steadier work as investigators?
“Reel Stuff” might have been a fun yarn set amidst the broken dreams and fresh hopes of Hollywood, but the jarring style and overall feeling of inauthenticity that permeate the text make it difficult to get too invested in any of the action.
Publish date: Dec. 3, 2013
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Author: Don Bruns