Barbara Hambly is a great storyteller, and this book is set in the real world (sort of). A World War II war widow is pulled from a miserable life as a paid companion into the excesses of Hollywood as her sister-in-law's dog sitter, ladies maid, and script writer. An unscrupulous Hollywood producer uses a cursed necklace to advance his own carear by propitiating the Rat God, and an ancient Chinese wizard tries to save the hapless Hollywood star. What I liked best was the character development and the authenticity of the Hollywood scene. I re-read this one to enjoy the gentle mocking of appearances over reality and the deep and discursive educated musings on a life that is lived very far away from the ivied halls of academia.
It's Los Angeles during the Roaring Twenties, at the dawn of the age of cinema and an era of screen legends. Party girl Chrysande Flamande, a Clara Bow-like star at the height of her popularity, is living the fast life and loving it. But when mysterious accidents start dogging her and people around her start dying, her sister-in-law, companion and dog-sitter Norah and her new friend cameraman Alec start suspecting something supernatural may be going on. Something to do with the Chrysande's ancient Chinese necklace, which legend says marks the wearer as the bride, and victim, of the demonic Rat God. Can Norah and Alec stop an ancient evil before it strikes again??!
*** I'm a huge fan of Barbara Hambly's. There are so many things to love about her books - Let me count the ways! 1) Taut, thrilling stories grab you by the throat and don't let go. 2) Wonderful, three-dimension, flawed characters you care about so when things get hairy you're really invested in what happens to them. 3) Beautiful, descriptive writing. 4) Rare and wonderful words that have sent me to the dicitonary on several occasions. Etc. Etc. I first fell in love with Hambly in the early 80's when I read her "Dragonsbane" which filled with the kind of quirky characters - people who suffer from real, often apparently insurmountable problems - that typify her writing. This, unfortunately, was the first book of hers I'd read that I was disappointed with.
Don't get me wrong - "Disappointing" for a Hambly book still puts it head and shoulders above 90% of the stuff out there. And it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what was missing, but there just wasn't the same connection with the characters you usually feel with Hambly. Despite the life or death consequences I felt absolutely no compulsion to find out what happens to them. On the other hand, it was fun to get a glimpse into an era I've never read about - Hambly, a historian, does an excellent job of putting you in a fascinating time and place in American history. Oh, and Chrysdande's 3 adorable Pekignese make almost make the book worth reading all by their cute, furry little selves!
Conclusion: Moderate recommendation, but only if you want to read about an interesting period in American history. Otherwise, get one of her other books. There are so many really great ones!