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The Actress    by Elizabeth Sims order for
by Elizabeth Sims
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

When the compelling action of The Actress begins, a struggling and largely unknown actress, Rita Farmer, the divorced mother of a four-year old son, is behind on her rent, low on food, and out of money in Hollywood. Then, quite out of the blue, Rita's fortunes are about to change.

A prominent criminal defense attorney in southern California, Gary Kwan, approaches Rita after one of her storytelling sessions at the Los Angeles Central Library. Kwan offers Rita an intriguing job with a wonderful pay scale: $1,000 a day with the opportunity for a $50,000 bonus. The lawyer simply wants the actress to work as an acting coach for his client, Eileen Tenaway, who is in jail and awaiting trial on a charge of murdering her eighteen-month old daughter.

Unless the accused woman can alter her personality and behavior, she is unlikely to be viewed sympathetically by jurors, and that - as Kwan points out - will mean a disastrous verdict of Guilty. On the other hand, if Rita can work with the defendant and help her convincingly play the role of innocent woman, then the sympathetic jurors will more readily acquit the woman they will view as a wrongly charged victim, which then means that Rita will collect the $50k bonus.

In the meantime, an insurance claims investigator, George Rowe, is eager to continue working on what he calls The Jeweler in the Jungle case. The jeweler was a partner in a gem importing business who disappeared and was reported dead in Brazil; the insurance company for whom Rowe works, however, has doubts about what really happened to the jeweler and is somewhat reluctant to pay on his very large insurance policy. Rowe begins making new inquiries - even traveling to Brazil to follow up on some controversial aspects of the man's disappearance and death - and then Rowe believes he has stumbled upon an important new key to The Jeweler in the Jungle case. To proceed, though, Rowe is going to need some help. And so it happens that he turns to Rita Farmer, a woman who he learns has unique access to the dead man's widow - Eileen Tenaway.

What will Rowe ultimately discover? Does Eileen have keys to solving The Jeweler in the Jungle case? What really happened to Eileen's husband? What really happened to Eileen's daughter?

Moreover, will Rita succeed in transforming an apparently murderous and remorseless mother into a falsely accused victim? Will Rita collect her $50k bonus? Most important, though, are other questions: what will Rita learn about herself, others, loyalty, duplicity, passion, and the surprisingly deadly dangers that suddenly go along with being an actress and mother?

Answers to the foregoing are waiting for readers in The Actress, a first-rate mystery in a new series from Elizabeth Sims, an award-winning author of four prior novels. With a fond nod to Konstantin Stanislavsky - the legendary Russian actor, director, producer, and originator of the actor development process that came be known as Method Acting - The Actress is more than a top-notch mystery, it is also an intriguing character study in which personal emotions - either real or imagined - become the methodically constructed foundations for perceived - rather than authentic - behaviors and attitudes.

2nd Review by Lyn Seippel:

Out-of-work actress and single mother, Rita Farmer, is broke and desperate when she is asked to coach murder defendant, socialite Eileen Tenaway. Eileen's lack of emotion is sure to get her convicted despite the fact that the DA has only circumstantial evidence against her. Not knowing whether Eileen killed her infant daughter or not, Rita needs the money too much turn down the job.

Eileen is being defended by Gary Kwan, a successful attorney who earlier won an acquittal for a sports star accused of murdering his wife. Rita's feelings for Gary quickly go from admiration to lust. This doesn't put her in the best light since he is married, but the plot quickly jumps to the possibility that Eileen's supposedly deceased husband is very much alive.

The book follows Eileen's trial and the search for her husband by insurance company investigator George Rowe. When Rita's son is kidnapped, she is afraid to call the police so she calls Rowe. Unfortunately, his search has led him to Tijuana, Mexican where he thinks Eileen's husband is waiting for the trial to be over. Rita defies danger and agrees to meet a killer to save her son.

This an excellent start to the Rita Farmer series. The mystery is twisty and Rita's first person patter is entertaining.

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