Some quotes from the book:
Detective Sergeant Masao Masuto, of the Beverly Hills Police Force, did not live in the “poor” section of Beverly Hills. He lived in a cottage in Culver City and considered himself most fortunate to be possessed of the cottage, a good wife, three children, and a rose garden upon which he lavished both love and toil. He secretly dreamed of himself as a gardener who devoted all of his working hours to his garden.And:
Mulholland Drive was a high rib out of a sea of yellow smog. To Masuto, as always, the sight was unreal and hideous, and his eyes burned.Plot and characterization are the two main things that I look for in a novel. This book has a fast-paced interesting plot. The mystery here centers around the death, possibly a murder, of a Hollywood producer. He died during a dinner party at his house, which four other couples attended, in addition to himself and his wife. All of the men in attendance share a history with a young actress named Samantha.
Where this novel was lacking was in the characterization. All of the characters, including Masuto, are stereotypes. I did find a lot to like about Masuto, but there was little depth to any of the other characters. The women were all young and beautiful, and most were married to their husbands for the money. Some of the women suspects eventually move from the one-dimensional portrayal to show their strengths to a certain extent.
This book does include some political and social commentary, focusing on the treatment of Masuto by suspects and witnesses. They treat him with condescension and include racial slurs in their conversations with him. Masuto is nisei, a son of Japanese immigrants to the U.S. , and the suspects are not comfortable dealing with an "Oriental" in a position of responsibility and power. Much is also made of the fact that most Beverly Hills residents are rich and/or powerful and expect the police to handle them with kid gloves.
It is not surprising that these books have such references, since E. V. Cunningham is a pseudonym for Howard Fast, better known for his historical fiction, with themes of human rights. He published his first novel at 19 in 1933. Per his obituary in the New York Times:
His output was slowed but not entirely interrupted by the blacklisting he endured in the 1950's after it became known that he had been a member of the Communist Party and then refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He served three months in a federal prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress, a charge arising from his refusal to produce the records of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee.Fast began writing Spartacus, his most famous work, while he was in prison, and self-published it in 1951 following his release from prison. The book was adapted as a film in 1960, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Fast went on to write many more novels.
The Case of the Angry Actress was first published as Samantha. Starting in 1960, Howard Fast published twelve novels of suspense, all having a woman's name for the title. These were published under the pseudonym E.V. Cunningham. Other than the titles, in most cases there was no connection between these novels. Fantastic Fiction indicates that some of them share some characters. See this link for a list of all the E. V. Cunningham titles.
Samantha was published in 1967, and the next mystery featuring Masao Masuto was not published for another ten years. There were seven novels in the series and the last novel in the series was published in 1984.
There is a nice overview of the series at The Cozy Mystery List Blog.
Did I enjoy the book? Yes, but I wanted more from it. The story had charm, but it was lacking in areas. I plan to read the next book in the series for comparison. Would I recommend the book? Yes, if you are looking for a light, entertaining, undemanding mystery written and set in the late 1960s.