Movie’s star’s ‘Casanegra’ is a whodunit with an urban edge

(AP)-“Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Mystery” (Atria Books. 320 pages. $25), by Blair Underwood with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes: It’s not hard to imagine who Tennyson Hardwick was patterned after. A struggling actor with charisma to spare and blessed with “The Face,” a countenance so arresting that it reduces women to a mass of pulsating desire, the hero of “Casanegra” immediately evokes any number of Blair Underwood roles.

Hardwick, like many characters played by Underwood, is smooth and sophisticated, with a style that tends toward Bruno Magli shoes and Kenneth Cole leather jackets. He is also a struggling actor whose secret past as a highly paid gigolo rises up to haunt him after he becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a former client, a rap star-turned-actress named Afrodite.

As Hardwick tries to clear his name, he becomes obsessed with finding Afrodite’s real killer and becomes entangled in a morass of gangster rap rivalries, corrupt LAPD politics and a seemingly endless series of discoveries about Afrodite’s own hidden past.

Sound familiar? If you’re a fan of film noir, hard-boiled detective novels or stories ripped from today’s headlines, it should. This whodunit, told with a modern urban edge, is an amalgam of styles that carries thick overtones of Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley and “L.A. Confidential,” and drops more celebrity names than

At times, the prose seems to be trying a bit too hard, and comes off like a parody of the genre. One line in particular stands out: “I felt Death blow on my face like hot wind from a speeding train.”

But steamy sex scenes, action-packed confrontations, glimpses into the world of Hollywood’s elite and unexpected plot twists keep the reader turning the pages _ and as eager as Hardwick to uncover the real killer.

In his first collaboration with husband-and-wife writing team of Due and Barnes, Underwood shows that he can weave a detective tale almost as well as he commands attention in front of the camera.