"Zero to the Bone"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 22, 2006)
"I tracked people for a living, if celebrities can be called people and photographing them a living."
Zero to the Bone was my introduction to Mary Alice Baker a.k.a. Nina Zero, the savvy, sexy, complex protagonist of author Robert Eversz's mystery series. Ms Zero, in this her fifth outing, is a paparazzi for LA's ignominious tabloid, The Scandal Times, and an ex-con out on parole. She solves murder cases as a hobby. Unfortunately, as with many series novels, there are numerous references to the protagonist's past. In Zero to the Bone, the author alludes to so many incidents in Nina's earlier life, from prior works, that even though he includes some background information, I really felt left out - like I should go back and read books one through four to thoroughly understand the heroine and this particular plot. I enjoyed Nina as a character, (we bonded), but not the storyline. However, Mr. Eversz has my attention and I am now curious enough to read more Nina novels, but that's not the point...right? Zero to the Bones should stand alone, unless the reader is informed otherwise. I do not think it fulfills its promise.
Our story opens with Nina's debut as an artiste. She obviously has talent and is showing her very original photographs at the upscale Leonora Price Gallery in Santa Monica. The photos are "staged tableaux carefully composed to look culled from the pages of the National Enquirer" - in other words, arty Hollywood pulp! Her two main models, blonde, wholesome looking Christine, and Nephthys, a kind of "punk Barbara Stanwyck type," are scheduled to accompany her to the opening, along with her trusty bodyguard The Rott, a toothless but formidable Rottweiler, and teenage niece Cassie. A plus - the crowd likes the work. Even her parole officer appreciates it. A few sales are made, and a potential romance surfaces in the form of handsome Sean Tyler. Frank, her cohort and editor-in-chief at the Scandal rag introduces them. The negative is that Christine, a friend as well as Nina's model, is a no show...and she promised to attend this important event.
The evening turns into a nightmare when Nina receives an unmarked DVD which turns out to be a snuff film. Christine is the victim, definitely identifiable by the unique Betty Boop tattoo on her shoulder. Shortly afterward, the model's body turns up in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Parole rules forbid sleuthing. They also prohibit Nina's burgeoning association with hunky Sean, who turns out to be a LAPD detective. But rules have never stood in our girl's way and she is determined to find out who murdered her friend. Her investigation takes her to Hollywood's seamiest areas to question the scum who dwell there.
Along with the mystery and associated complications, Nina's abusive father surfaces and details about her dysfunctional family emerge. "His beatings taught me discipline, how to walk quietly and be silent, how to tune into the moods of your opponent and hit him before he hits you or run before he strikes. Above all, he taught me how to watch. I'm a photographer because of him, because of my fear of him."
I was interested in Nina and various other characters to keep reading until the end - not a bad experience. I do get the feel that if I study up on her past through the earlier books in the series, I will appreciate this one more. So, if you are a Nina Zero fan already, you will probably enjoy Zero To The Bone. If you haven't met her yet, try book number one first!
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
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"Digging James Dean"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer May 7, 2005)
Nina Zero, paparazzi for The Scandal Times, knows that a picture of Chad Stonewell will earn her very little money, but she feels bad for the runaway who seems to think that the fact that the aging action star is eating at a restaurant is newsworthy. When she steps in front of him to snap a picture of him and his mysterious guest she expects gratitude for free publicity, not to be attacked. She realizes the runaway in the violet glasses has set her up, but it’s not until she and her boss Frank go to Indiana to cover the desecration of James Dean’s grave, and she sees the girl in a picture taken from a security camera that she starts to think there is more to the story. Soon Nina is involved in a mystery...why are people digging up the bones of celebrities of the past? It is a secret that the people are willing to murder for.
Nina Zero is an interesting character in that she could easily be an anti-hero. She once went to jail for murder, and is on parole. She is a paparazzi, and though she’s a good paparazzi, and doesn’t violate privacy too badly, she still works for a paper that takes joy in inventing wild stories. One of the things she has to face now is the death of her mother, an abused wife who did nothing to protect her daughters from abuse; and, her sister who ran away, has returned for the funeral. The interesting thing about this is that it allows Everzs to do a couple of things. One, Nina and her family, her bother, her sister, each exemplify the cycles of abuse and how it has damaged each of their lives. For the second, it makes one wonder what type of person Nina would have been without the abuse...would she have still been a tough woman who considers rage an old friend? It gives marvelous insight into her character while pointing out an issue in our society.
You cannot help but like Nina. Certainly, she is tough, no nonsense, but there is a softness to her. She takes in a Rottweiler with no teeth, which means she has to move out of her apartment. She can’t resist helping the runaway Teresa, even though she could get killed doing so. Sometimes it seems like Nina loses more than she gains, but in the end, you know that she is a true heroine, someone that you can emphasize with and even look up to. She hasn’t let life break her, she is trying to take what she learned and move forward.
The story itself is really interesting. Not only do we, through Nina’s job, get an interesting look at the world of Hollywood, but the story, itself, with the idea of people stealing bones to make into relics, taking the idea of how people worship movie stars and exploring it to the furthest degree, listing them along with the saints. The idea that these bones have some sort of holy power makes this parallel a fascinating one to follow and asks us questions about how we act towards these actors.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Digging James Dean at SimonSays.com(back to top)
(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 11, 2004)
Nina Zero is not your typical mystery serial heroine. She's recently been released from prison after serving time for voluntary manslaughter, a crime she admits to, though she feels she should have gotten off. She has no contact with her family, can't get a regular job, so she uses her talents the only way she knows how...as a paparazzi. She's changed her name, her hair color, everything in an attempt to leave the past well behind her. Her latest assignment for The Scandal Times is sure to hurt her more than help.
Angela Doubleday was once a star of the silver screen, until a stalker died in her arms. Now, for the tenth anniversary of her Garbo-like seclusion, The Scandal Times would like to shoot the first pictures anyone has taken of the recluse since that fateful night. Nina gets some shots...including one that shatters her camera. As she sits looking down at Doubleday's house, a man who she mistakes for a bodyguard finds her and, when she refuses to give up her camera, shoots right through the lens. She gets away with a headache and a few scratches, and wakes up to find the house she was watching in flames. The arson investigator, for various reasons, decides that whether Nina did it or not -- he says that she did it to photograph the results -- she's the one he's pinning it on. Now Nina needs to solve the arson -- and, when a body is found, murder -- before she finds herself back behind bars.
Despite her tough as nails stand alone image, she has a rather nice support group. First there's her parole officer, who is even tougher than Nina; a tabloid reporter; and my favorite, a "rottie" named Baby. Baby is a really fun addition to her team...she meets him shortly after the fire, when she goes back to her car. He climbs in and refuses to budge, a loving, if toothless dog who, in the tradition of all the best dogs, becomes her best friend. I also enjoyed her relationship with the ex-policeman who used to be Angela Doubleday's bodyguard. Ben doesn't seem to mind her snarky outlook, and gives as good as he takes. Arlanda, Doubleday's niece, is one of the people who helps the most, wanting the right person to pay for her aunt's death, she not only gives Nina a doorway into the investigation, but she's a really sweet character. All these people help, in their own way, solve the crime, but they also solve another mystery. Each of them add a perspective that peels away a little of Nina Zero for us, allowing us to see her more clearly.
This is an especially good thing. Like I said, Nina is not your typical heroine. She's funny...she isn't afraid to wise crack, even when she would be smarter to hold her tongue, and she's very pleasant to be around. Smart, wounded enough to have some depth, funny.
This book goes down like warm tea and honey. It's one of those easy, hard to put down reads that passes an evening quickly and pleasurably. I realize that this makes the book sound both like a cozy mystery, which it certainly is not. Eversz writes with a keen wit and quick pacing, and that, combined with the fact that Nina is just a really attractive character is what makes this book work. Now I want to read the first two books of this series, Shooting Elvis and Killing Paparazzi .
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Burning Garbo at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Nina Zero Mysteries:
- Shooting Elvis (1996)
- Killing Paparazzi (January 2002)
- Burning Garbo (October 2003)
- Digging James Dean (February 2005)
- Zero to the Bone (February 2006)
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- The official Web site for Robert Eversz
- Suicide Girls interview with Robert Eversz
- Thrilling Detective on Nina Zero
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About the Author:
Robert Eversz is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz and a UCLA film school dropout. He's on the Executive Council of the International Association of Crime Writers and a former director of the Prague Summer Writers' Workshop.
His novels have been translated into ten languages, and he once appeared on the Norwegian equivalent of "The Tonight Show" with Rukan Elvis, the world's only Elvis impersonator from north of the Arctic Circle.
Robert Eversz is an American living in Prague, Czech Republic.