Blacklist (Tor/Forge) by Jerry Ludwig is part history lesson, part murder mystery, and part character studies of the three main characters who take turns revealing bits of their lives in the aftermath of the Hollywood blacklist from their own perspectives. It is an in-depth look at how the Hollywood blacklist destroyed families and ruined lives, and Blacklist is a pretty entertaining mystery novel, as well.
David Weaver, or “Teddy’s boy,” as he is often referred to in the novel, is very much anti-blacklist, for the very good reason that his father, Teddy, a blacklisted screenwriter, was one of the people who was asked to testify in front of the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) and give up names. Rather than do that, Teddy split the country, taking his family with him, to live at times in Mexico and later, in Paris, France.
If David’s father had named names, he could have stayed off of the blacklist, and still write and sell screenplays in Hollywood. By leaving, and keeping his convictions and own code of morals intact, the only work he can find is piecemeal. Teddy continues to write, at a faster pace than ever before; but, just for peanuts, whenever he can get paid at all. Some people who hire him welsh out and do not pay him a cent. Though David looks up to his father, the family, as a whole, suffers because of Teddy’s stance. His mother starts drinking heavily, and becomes an alcoholic, eventually committing suicide by talking an overdose of sleeping pills.
Jana was David’s girlfriend before David’s father, Teddy, left the United States with his family to avoid testifying against his friends and acquaintances. Jana’s father, Leo Vardian, who had been a good friend of Teddy’s, had testified in order to keep working in Hollywood, so she is able to see the blacklist and how it impacted people in a different light than David does. She would like to start up her old romance with David, but he still resents her father for having testified. To David, it is as if Leo sold out his friends, and Teddy, by testifying.
Finally, some of the chapters are narrated by FBI agent, Brian McKenna, who aided in rounding up Hollywood stars, writers, directors, producers, etc., to testify in front of the HUAC. McKenna is gung-ho, but is just doing a job and doing it as well as he can. What he and other FBI agents did was despicable to David, Teddy, and others who were rounded up as being Communists and/or Communist sympathizers, but McKenna does not act out of malice, but a sense of duty of J.Edgar Hoover and his country, so he ends up being seen (at least somewhat) in a sympathetic light.
It is 1959 at the beginning of Blacklist, five years after the end of the dreaded McCarthy hearings. David Weaver is attempting to transport Teddy’s body back to Hollywood from Paris to be buried. He encounter problems when his father’s body gets misplaced, and when he does return and arranges the funeral, David finds himself running out of money. He needs to find a job, and fast.
Teddy’s lawyer from better days, Harry Rains, who became a family friend, is happy to see David. Harry is now Panorama Studios’ head of production. He offers David a job working at the studio, where David hopes he can rekindle his romance with Jana, as well as earn money.
The catch is that the job will be working for Leo Vardian, being a gopher for him, running errands while Leo directs a big-budget movie called Against the Wind. David does not like the idea at all, but after meeting with Leo at his house, confronting him for having testified and named names, David agrees to work with the man he has built up an animosity against over the years.
Blacklist is divided into two books. The first book sets up what will follow, and we get to know the main characters better. The pace of first book moves a bit slow at first, but it really picks up closer to the conclusion of it, and the second book is more action-packed.
The chilling and violent death of an old family friend, Wendy Travers, begins to transform this entertaining novel about what it means to be loyal into a murder mystery. At first, a popular theory is that someone came up to her car asking for money, then bashed in her windshield and her face. After Wendy’s untimely demise, other supporting characters are also killed off, and David looks like the most likely suspect. He seems to have no memories of what he was doing or where he was during the times when the people he has known for years get murdered, one-by-one. David finds himself hunted by McKenna, the very man who helped drive his father and his entire family out of America. Readers are forced to ask themselves if David really is the person behind the murders, or if they are being committed by someone else, maybe someone who is trying to frame the man known as “Teddy’s boy.”
Recommended; though it does have a slow start, Blacklist by Jerry Ludwig is an interesting look at the Hollywood blacklist era, and it is also an intriguing and captivating mystery novel. Fans of historical fiction and mystery novels will want to add Blacklist to their summer reading lists. Check out this Tor/Forge novel today!
Written by: Douglas Cobb