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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Culture Watch

The Scene of the Crime

December 21, 1997|DONNA MUNGEN

"I love the gothic nature of Hollywood," admits mystery novelist Lindsay Maracotta as she takes in a view of the basin from her Moorish-influenced Hollywood Hills home. "And I am equally bemused by the domestic life of entertainment people who send their children to Fiji for field trips and still think they're leading perfectly normal, family-centered lives."

Once again Maracotta has exposed her bemusement at the tribal rituals of this small city-state in the second installment of her Lucy Freers series, "The Dead Celeb" (Morrow), which has already been snatched up by a Paramount producer.

After a decade as a screenwriter, Maracotta shifted into mystery writing because it allowed her to address "social commentary without being didactic." Some friends have been offended by her portrayal of their lives, "but, oddly, they tend to be people I didn't even have in mind. And egos are so huge in this town, people will see themselves no matter what you write."

Maracotta treads heavily on soil that was once the province of Cain, Chandler and Nathanael West, now inhabited by James Ellroy and Stuart Kaminsky, among others. But Maracotta has tried to keep her cynicism to a minimum, favoring instead an acerbic tone.

"Some novelists hated Hollywood and saw no beauty or redemption here," she notes. "But there is a lot I love about this city, including the architecture, such as a Moorish castle next to a Greek revival next to a Tudor, which I think is a berserk expression of style."

The ways and wits of celebrities are matters this transplanted New Yorker has long been watching. Fresh out of college, she worked as a gofer for John Lennon and Yoko Ono. "I realized then that celebrities just don't have a clue and they're really out in the ozone. In our own way, we're all out in the ozone, but some are in more stratospheric layers than others."

Maracotta has chosen to etch her gothic tale through the sleuthing wits of an award-winning female animator, Lucy Freers, whose efforts to fortify her marriage entangle her in solving the suspicious death of a film director. She says the plot came after a friend mentioned that if a certain prominent film director was found dead, "there would be 32,000 suspects, because he was so well-hated."

The final Hollywoodean irony: Maracotta ends up back where she started, since she will pen the screenplay for the film. And if the director should vanish, who else would be the prime suspect?

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