Book Review: Farran Smith Nehme's "Missing Reels"

Apr 23, 2015

Blogging is one of the greatest things to happen to the art of writing. In a blog, a writer is free to do whatever they want. They can experiment with form or subject matter, and build a readership without worrying about the approval of an agent or publisher. It can also be a launch pad for a career.

If a new writer wants to see if they have the skills to make it, a blog can supply that answer in real time.

I have a blog and so does Farran Smith Nehme. Hers, "Self-Styled Siren," focuses on classic films. I love old movies and have followed her blog for years. When I heard she was publishing her first novel, I knew I wanted to check it out. But as much as I’ve enjoyed her work on "Self-Styled Siren," which is witty and fun and sometimes surprising in its insights, I just can’t say the same for "Missing Reels."

Nehme’s debut novel takes place in the mid-1980’s, but the main character Cinewen Kelly lives even further in the past. Like the author, she is obsessed with old films and vintage clothing. After discovering that a cranky but elegant old woman in her building once starred in a lost silent movie, Cinewen becomes determined to track it down. The old starlet wants nothing to do with Cinewen, but that only adds to the mystery for her.

While the search for this old movie might seem like a promising adventure, the plot is anything but thrilling. It’s clear from the get go who has the lost film, even though it seems unlikely that it was right beneath her nose the entire time. Cinewen acts like she’s one of those heroines from an old film noir mystery. But this story doesn’t have any of that intrigue. It’s mostly for her own amusement.

Aside from the improbable plot, some of the characters are just plain unlikable. The book might be inspired by romantic-comedies from a bygone era, but that doesn’t make up for what a cad the male lead is. The object of Cinewen’s affection is Matthew Hill.  He is a mathematician, and oh yeah, he’s in a serious relationship with another woman. Cinewen seems happy to play along though, and the affair continues for almost a year. There isn’t even much romance or wit in their interactions. They mostly just argue. This is definitely not Colbert and Gable. When they finally get together at the end, Nehme seems to think readers will be happy for Cinewen. But I doubt that many of them were cheering.

The one thing I did enjoy about the book was all the hidden references to old movies. It was kind of a fun game to try and see how many I could catch. After finishing "Missing Reels" I can’t help but think that Nehme wrote the wrong book. She would have been better off about her love of classic films instead of this clunky novel.

While I was disappointed by her novel, I’ll still be visiting Farran Smith Nehme’s blog. And if you love old movies, I highly recommend you check it out too. Just feel free to leave her book "Missing Reels" on the shelf. You won’t be missing much.

Scott Southard's novel "Permanent Spring Showers" was just released. Published by 5 Prince Books, it can be find on any online retailer. More information and his writing can be found on his site "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.