The Mother Brain Files: The Death of Michael Russo Book Review

The Mother Brain Files: The Death of Michael Russo Book Review
By Mother Brain


John Merenda, the author of the Civil Wrath trilogy, switches gears from the volatile American West to the treacherous Hollywood of the 1930s in his latest novel, The Death of Michael Russo. Like Wrath, it’s protagonist, Joseph Russo, is a man on a mission. Russo started as a leather worker in Italy when he learned the news of his son Michael getting killed in prison on Devil’s Island. Twenty years later in America now owning a leather business, Joe discovers that not only was the news of his son’s death was false but also he became a major Oscar-winning movie star…and had recently died for real in a murder suicide.

In search of answers of how Michael died not once but twice, Joe travels to Hollywood to meet Helen Wood, an established female film director who discovered Michael, had deep affections for him, and helps Joe to find out the truth behind the deaths of Michael and his wife Alice. Their search, however, reaches as far as the dirty political games in Hollywood and the seedy producers who will do anything to make a profit even if it means murder.

I love these old school Hollywood murder mysteries like Chinatown, Hollywoodland, L.A. Confidential and this story really has all those elements at play. What I enjoyed about the narrative is how it starts out telling Michael’s backstory through flashbacks of Helen’s memories like a rise and fall of a superstar actor. Then it makes a dramatic turn midway through into a nourish murder mystery filled with intrigue and unexpected twists. Merenda also pays great attention to detail of the period not only by integrating famous actors of the early 1930s but also the inter-workings of the studio system of that time with contract players, exploitation of ethnic actors and filmmakers for their successes, and the struggle of women getting taken seriously as directors at a time when “only men made movies.”

The character arc of Joe I also found to be very interesting. Even a few setups with Joe’s behavior and actions that lead to major payoffs by chapter thirty. He begins as a kind grieving father yearning for details about his son’s life but then turns into an unlikely detective once he learns of the motives behind the murder. His uncanny resemblance to his son also causes a budding romance with Helen which was sweet without being sappy.

The only real critique I would have for Michael Russo is that I felt some chapters were dry and interrupted the progression of the story. While I found the subplot of Helen filming the Jesus movie to be interesting as well as good juxtaposition to the murder mystery, some of the chapters establishing the character of Helen’s black housemaid, Dolly, didn’t interest me even if they were written for character development. Maybe it’s just me but I want to see the mystery unfold chapter by chapter.

Overall, The Death of Michael Russo was wonderful Hollywood noir tale which we don’t get much of these days and for the author, Merenda, so radically different from Civil Wrath in a good way. The book is now available to buy for online reading, Kindle, Epub, and other ebook reading formats at Civil Wrath and its 2 sequels can be bought there as well.


Mother Brain
About Mother Brain 152 Articles
"Staten Island, NY native Andre´ Joseph had a love for movies from a very early age. He began his career making short films with family and friends on home video. He attended the New York Film Academy summer program in 2001 where he first gained experience working with 16 millimeter film and later graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College in 2006 where he received a degree in Visual and Media arts. He also interned in television production with VH1 Classic in the summer of 2006. In 2008, Andre´ formed his own New York-based independent film production company, AJ Epyx Productions, LLC. The company’s first feature film, Priceless, which Mr. Joseph wrote, starred, and directed, opened at Tribeca Cinemas in October 2008 and was selected for exhibition at the NY International Independent Film & Video Festival in March 2009. His second feature film, Dishonorable Vendetta, was the official selection at the NewFilmmakers NY Winter Series in 2015. Most recent projects include the dramatic short film Night Stream which was nominated for 4 World Music & Independent Film Festival awards including winner for Best Supporting Actor, the comedic short film Tempted which was the official selection at the Garden State Film Festival, and the short dramedy The Dinner. When not making films, Andre´ co-hosts the movie review web series The Cinefiles for the geek culture site, This is Infamous. He enjoys weight lifting, running, yoga, comic books, wrestling, football, basketball, and an extremely eclectic taste in music."

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