When I picked up this book at the library, I had a feeling it was going to be a good story. The author, Diane Leslie, actually works in a bookstore. Though she may be regular gal, her book, Fleur de Leigh's Life of Crime is far from ordinary.
The tale opens in 1957. Ten year-old Fleur is living in the Hollywood Hills. Her mother is Charmian Leigh, of the popular The Charmian Leigh Radio Mystery Half-Hour. Her father produces a game show on a local television network.
In an attempt to constantly further their show business careers, Fleur's parents have trusted her care to nannies all of her life. For various reasons, the nannies never work out and new ones are hired on a regular basis.
Fleur de Leigh's Life of Crime follows 20 months in the life of the young heroine. When you read this book, you will quickly realize that Fleur is more mature than her parents are. Perhaps it is because she spends most of the day alone. Fleur is very observant for a child.
The chapters in this book are broken down and titled with the names of the coming and departing nannies and other people who have influenced Fleur's life. For example, the first chapter is titled Glendora 3/17/57-6/12/57. It is as though these people were born when they arrived, and died when they left the house in Laurel Canyon.
The nannies themselves were real characters, too. First, there was Glendora. She lasted three months. Charmian stole her boyfriend, so Glendora stole Charmian's best possessions. Next came Bettina, who was quite the party animal, it turns out. She lasted about a month. Other nannies that come and go include an aspiring actress and a patient from a mental hospital.
Three of the chapters are about other people who make short stays in Fleur's life. There's Grandma Glo who stays for two days. Unfortunately, Maurice is ashamed of his mother and sends Grandma Glo away just as soon as she arrives. Fleur also meets one of Maurice's game show contestants and an aging silent film star who touches her life.
There are two ways you as a reader can look at this book. First, you'll probably notice what's sad about the story. Everybody Fleur cares about in her life always leaves. Her best friend, her grandma and some of the nannies she liked always make an abrupt exit.
However, aside from the mildly depressing stuff, you'll also notice the dark humor in the story. Fleur's parents take themselves way too seriously. Charmian is a radio actress at the time when America is beginning to tune into television. She knows this and kisses anyone's butt who is remotely close to a television executive. She'll do anything to get her show on the small screen.
Also over-absorbed in his own importance is Maurice. He used to be a movie executive back when movie studios had stars under exclusive contract. Now, he is merely a producer of a game show that gets dismal ratings by humiliating the contestants.
Just about the only person that is constant in Fleur's life is Constantine, the gardener. They have a forbidden friendship, as Fleur shouldn't be friends with the hired help. She disobeys her mother, however, as this "help" is really the only family she feels she has.
I know you're probably thinking How can this be a funny book? but it is pretty amusing and clever. Fleur is wise beyond her years. She takes her parents whims in stride. She knows they are nuts. Her distance is what saves her, as she is not an ordinary Hollywood child.
Fleur de Leigh's Life of Crime is a fabulous book. I do recommend it to anyone who loves to read. Yes, the title character is a child, but don't let that deter you. In a world that revolves around Hollywood, this is a refreshing change. Diane Leslie offers her story without telling you how to feel about it.