Angel City, "Town Without Pity," is not just the tale of Hollywood in the late 1930s - it's the story of how Hollywood takes the innocence of young girls hoping to make it big in Tinseltown and twists it into something dark and without remorse - without pity. This is hard-boiled noir with only a smidgen of soft edges, and it's unapologetic with it's realism, and it never promises a happy ending for everyone.
Angel City is the story of Dorothy Dunkel and Frances Faye Hallmeyer - two young blondes who head off to Hollywood to make all their dreams come true. As with so many young girls of that time, their dreams are quickly dashed, and they must face the cold, hard reality that is Hollywood. As Frances (going by Faye) sells her body to get ahead, Dorothy (who changes her name to Dolores Dare) sells her soul to the local mobster. They lose touch, and Dorothy believes she will never see her friend again.
Until the body of Faye Hallmayer turns up in a dumpster.
The past comes crashing into the present, and Dorothy realizes that she will never rest until her friend's murderer is caught. The police are in the pocket of Dorothy's boss, Gino Volante, the local mobster who hides behind the scenes in Hollywood's underworld, so they have no interest in solving the murder of yet one more call girl. With the help of her photographer friend, Joe, Dorothy sets out to catch a killer and regain some small portion of her soul - of the Dorothy Dunkel she once was.
Written by Janet Harvey and illustrated by Megan Levens, Angel City gives readers a gritty murder mystery with a determined, yet not invincible, enforcer-turned-sleuth. Harvey tells a magnificent tale with the perfect pacing to keep the action moving, while at the same time, providing backstory and depth to the characters (all except Joe, about whom we really learn very little throughout the six-chapter story). The characters are complex, and with the exception of only one or two, there is no true black or white, good or evil when it comes to people (just like in real life). There are simply individuals who face difficult choices and must live with the consequences of those choices.
Levens' art matches the mood of the story perfectly, with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood on the surface, yet dark and disturbing characters and acts behind the facade. The expressions she draws on the characters are outstanding! Not many artist I have seen can truly capture a wide variety of expressions, but Levens is able to show even the smallest hint of emotion - just check out Joe's face on panel 3 of page 90 to see what I mean. And Nik Filardi's colors definitely enhance the storytelling, with subdued reds and grays that blend beautifully to keep the noir feel to the book.
While Angel City is not for the faint of heart, neither is it overtly sexualized or profane. There is no real nudity (only implied) and there is very little, if any, cursing in the story. It is the subject matter itself that makes it dark, and it is the determination and realistic portrayal of the characters that makes the story so compelling. This book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys noir or just a good murder mystery, and it was definitely the perfect way to close out a year that did not end so well.
RATING: 9 pearl-handled revolvers out of 10 for proving that noir Hollywood in the 1930s does not need to be dominated by male detectives - a woman can do the job just as well.