Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Book Review: The Hollywood Assistant

By Jami Denison

May Cobb’s The Hunting Wives is one of my favorite domestic suspense novels (reviewed here), and I was thrilled to hear that Starz has commissioned a series from the book. Perhaps that was the impetus for her latest thriller, The Hollywood Assistant—although Cobb mentions in her author’s note that she also worked as an assistant. 

Cassidy Foster is reeling from a break-up when her best friend Lexie—a Hollywood producer—helps her find a dream job. Soon Cassidy has left Texas for LA and the chance to work for famous director Nate and his up-and-coming Spanish actress wife, Marisol. At first, it’s a dream-come-true—Marisol lets Cassidy raid her closet, and Nate asks her opinion on scripts. But their marriage is tumultuous, and Cassidy develops a crush on Nate. When Nate asks Cassidy to spy on Marisol, she can’t say no. As the tension builds among the three of them, it’s pretty obvious that someone’s going to end up dead. 

For me, The Hollywood Assistant started pretty slowly, and I had trouble getting into the book. It’s written in first person, present tense, and Cassidy spends a lot of time describing things, like her jazz albums, her plants, her garage apartment. But this slow start is a bit of a head fake on Cobb’s part. It lets the reader identify with Cassidy, perhaps pity her a little, before revealing that Cassidy … has some issues. 

The unlikeable protagonist is such a well-known criticism in novels with female leads that Cobb actually titled her last book  A Likeable Woman. This critique seems to be given to any female character who has the audacity to have a fault or perhaps an unkind thought. Cassidy has a few unpublished novels herself, and when she includes the rejection letters she’s gotten, the language hit home for me. “Couldn’t connect with the characters.” “Didn’t love it enough.”

It wasn’t until Cobb revealed Cassidy’s issues that I really got sucked into the book. Her crush on Nate makes Cassidy a little unhinged. She can’t understand why he’d stay with a woman he suspects of cheating. She obsesses on every word, every glance, every gesture that Nate makes. And Nate eats up her attention… when he’s not defending Marisol. 

Cassidy isn’t unlikeable. She’s every woman who’s ever been ghosted after three perfect months. She’s every woman who’s had a man lie to her when confronted with salacious texts. She’s every girl who ever got her friend in the office to give her her crush’s schedule so she could “accidentally” run into him after class. (That wasn’t just me, right? Right? Sorry, David. Your grades were really impressive, though!) 

Where does one draw the line between normal-but-weird behavior and behavior that’s disturbing? It’s a question that we sometimes ask about ourselves as well as the characters we read about. 

Other than the slow start, my only other quibble with the book was the ending. Domestic suspense has become a bit formulaic, and the villain was predictable for anyone who reads the genre. But perhaps if we readers didn’t demand that things wrap up so tightly, writers would have more freedom to leave loose ends and create unforeseeable plot twists. 

The most interesting women aren’t likeable. Like Cassidy, they’re a little unhinged. I’m glad authors like Cobb keep writing about them. 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by May Cobb:

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

Listen to this book on Speechify!

No comments: