Sunday, May 19, 2013

Last Dance With Valentino by Daisy Waugh

In 1916 seventeen-year-old Jenny Doyle leaves war-torn London with her n-er-do-well artist father to start a new life in New York with the wealthy de Saulles family. Little do they know they are walking into a viper’s nest of lustful intrigue. Mr. de Saulles is having an affair with a tango dancer named Joan Sawyer, and Mrs. de Saulles, a vain and fiery Chilean beauty, is having affairs with any man who admires her, including a brief fling with her husband’s mistress’s dance partner—Rodolfo Guglielmi—whom she wants to give evidence against her husband and his paramour so she can divorce him and take their son back to Chile.

Jenny and Rodolfo, both foreigners in a strange country, are drawn to each other and fall in love. Blanca de Saulles uses this to blackmail Rodolfo into doing her bidding. He gives testimony at her divorce trial, for which her husband retaliates by having him falsely arrested on a morals charge. And Mrs. de Saulles, unhappy about the shared custody arrangement the court has awarded, guns her husband down in cold-blood, and stars in a sensational murder trial, at which Jenny, an eyewitness, gives evidence.

His reputation ruined, Rodolfo goes to Hollywood. He later sends for Jenny, asking her to join him and become his wife, but events delay her joining him, and by the time she arrives he appears to have vanished. Jenny drifts into drink, drugs, and low company with a group of Hollywood lowlifes and bottom feeders who mainly exist on the fringes, but sometimes mingle with, the high and mighty movie star set. When Jenny finally claws her way out of this mess and gets engaged to a genuinely nice guy a face on the movie screen changes everything. In the tango dancing star of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse she recognizes her beloved Rodolfo, now known as Rudolph Valentino. With that film a star is born and keeps on rising as Jenny falls back into bad company.

Fast forward to 1926, when she has finally got a break, and is poised to become the screenwriter she always dreamed of being. “The Great Lover” of the silver screen and Jenny meet again, and their feelings are as strong as ever. But, as movie fans know, Valentino died, suddenly and tragically, in 1926 at the age of thirty-one. And in this novel Jenny is amongst the legions of fans who watch, wait, and hope, then mourn “The Great Lover’s” demise.

This was an interesting novel that adroitly weaves the life of its heroine into known historical events, but she’s one of those characters you just wish you could jump into the book and shake and slap and get her to get her act together. She slips into the sex, drugs, and drinking life so suddenly and easily. She gives up on finding Rodolfo so quickly, weeping on the sidewalk she lets herself be picked up by the man who will lead her so far astray. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good story, I myself just had a lot of trouble really liking the heroine, and as a woman myself who once lost a man I loved very much, I can’t help thinking she should have tried harder. When she inquiries at the boarding house, his last known address, and finds he’s gone, she just gives up all hope. Granted it was easier to disappear in the 1920s, but she could have tried a classified ad, and she knew he was a dancer likely to seek work in the entertainment profession, that might have afforded her some leads, she could have made inquiries at cafes and cabarets, knowing he had worked at both as a dancer, or even tried the movie studios. A handsome and talented dancer named Rodolfo/Rudolph probably wouldn’t have been that hard to locate. But, then again, logic like this would have destroyed the story the author wanted to tell. And she told and wrote it very well.

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