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Helen Walsh
Pull Focus
Helen Walsh, author

When Jane's partner goes missing she needs to find out if he''s in danger while also contending with the politics of running a large international film festival: Hollywood power brokers, Russian oil speculators, Chinese propagandists, and a board chair who seemingly has it out for her.

Jane has been appointed interim director of the Worldwide Toronto Film Festival after her boss has been removed for sexual harassment. Knives are out all around her, as factions within the community want to see her fail. At the same time, her partner, a fund manager, has disappeared, and strange women appear, uttering threats about misused funds. Yet the show must go on. As Jane struggles to juggle all the balls she's been handed and survive in one piece, she discovers unlikely allies and finds that she''s stronger than she thinks.

In this accomplished thriller debut, Walsh draws on her professional experience as a film producer to spin the story of a newly minted CEO of a film festival coping with the disappearance of her significant other during the event. Jane Browning was appointed to head the Worldwide Toronto Film Festival (WTFF) after her predecessor’s suspension due to “allegations of sexual wrongdoing.” Jane’s stress is compounded by escalating crises even before her partner, Bob Walker-Smythe, goes missing, and an Ontario Securities Commission official informs Jane that none of the senior executives at Bob’s investment firm, Smythe Financial, where she’s a corporate officer, have acknowledged “formal notice of irregularities in the firm’s minimum capital requirement.” Jane remains resolute in finding out what happened to Bob while maintaining her professional integrity and safeguarding herself against threats from a Russian woman with ties to Jane’s ex-husband.

Walsh’s expert knowledge of the film industry, the corporate world, and the ruthlessness of players in both adds arresting verisimilitude to this novel. The controviersies Jane faces at WTFF—the arrest of a film director charged with sexual assault against a hotel maid and a request for an injunction to stop the screening of a Chinese film—feel real and compelling, and Walsh capably distinguishes Jane’s refusal to misuse others from those industry executives who will let nothing interfere with their success. Walsh also adds an element of humanity by highlighting Jane’s sacrifice of temporarily putting career dreams on hold in order to care for her terminally ill mother.

The many characters and problems might initially overwhelm readers, but Walsh offers enough context in the narrative to enable them to understand the relationships between the main players and how they impact the plotline. Some of the metaphors are a bit unusual—such as “Samantha and Burt moved faster than a napalm bomb”—but serve to develop the noir feel of this gripping novel that focuses on the high-stakes and quickly changing world of the film industry.

Takeaway: The CEO of a film festival fights to keep her career and company afloat while facing the disappearance of her partner.

Great for fans of: Britt Lind’s Deception, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B