Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

My love affair with Fat Ass Sammy Grick


by Patricia Stoltey, mystery writer and guest columnist

Thanks so much for letting me visit your website, Mark. You’ve given me a chance to tell your readers about a bittersweet experience I had while writing Dead Wrong.

When I recruited Fat Ass Sammy Grick to be the bad guy in my first standalone suspense novel, I had no idea I was going to become so attached I’d have a hard time letting him go.

Many women, of course, are drawn to bad boys. But we think of devilish risk-taking characters–handsome guys with bedroom eyes, a little dangerous but not bad enough to do us harm, except perhaps to our hearts.

Patricia Stoltey

Patricia Stoltey

Sammy? Sammy wasn’t handsome. He had an ugly glare and a temper that flared at whoever was handy when he made one of his frequent stupid mistakes. To tell the truth, he was a nasty good-for-very-little thug. And I loved him from the very beginning.

I decided to write a multiple point of view novel and give Sammy a voice. He seemed a worthy adversary for Lynnette, a woman already on the run. She had no idea she was about to tangle with such a despicable lowlife.

And I had no idea I was going to get so attached to Sammy. He was like my inner creep who needed to get out and flex his muscles. When I wrote Sammy’s chapters, I became one with Sammy.

Sammy cussed. He cussed a lot. I began to mumble his dialogue as I typed. It felt good.

Some of Sammy’s actions caused Lynnette to react in unpredictable ways. I liked seeing her handle those twists and turns, so I gave Sammy free rein.

When Sammy’s gangster boss interrupted the action and sent Sammy into a tailspin, I watched and marveled as the big lug figured out what to do next.

DeadWrongFront 264x408As the story progressed, I began asking, “What would Sammy do?”

Wait! Sammy was not supposed to be the main character of Dead Wrong.

The story was about Lynnette. I should have been asking, “What would Lynnette do?”

I finally came to my senses. I had fallen in love with the antagonist. It was time to break it off before I ended up with a manuscript worthy only of cross-cut shredding.

I wanted to let Sammy down easy, but with a temper like his, I had to be careful. I tiptoed around and hinted a little, then finally cut the ties. It was as hard on me as it was on him.

I’m well into a new manuscript now, and so far I’ve managed to control myself and my characters a little better. I hope this means less revising when the first draft is finished. I’d hate to go through another breakup like the one with Sammy. I still miss him. I miss him a lot.


Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries from Five Star/Cengage, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders, now available as ebooks. Dead Wrong ( was released by Five Star Nov. 19, 2014.


To learn more about Patricia and her novels, visit her website ( and blog ( She can also be found on Facebook (, Twitter (, Google+   (, and Goodreads (

Mystery notes


Join a discussion; read about Route 66 and novel settings

The Big Thrill, the online publication of the International Thriller Writers is hosting an open discussion: “Are men’s mystery/suspense novel plots more thrilling than women’s?”

You can join the discussion by logging on here: The Big Thrill. Join me and three other mystery writers to talk about potential bias against women writers and ethnic themes in mystery novels.

On another subject: How does the setting of a novel influence the story? I went to journalism school at Fresno State University in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Recently the Kings River Life Magazine, which covers the valley, published an article of mine about how settings inspire mystery writers and how Route 66 plays a part in “Death in Nostalgia City.”

Your vote: what are the best noir films?


Anyone who thinks of Fred MacMurray mainly as the jovial father on the 1960s TV series My Three Sons or the screwball title character in The Absent Minded Professor film, doesn’t know the real Fred MacMurray.

The real Fred MacMurray was the scheming insurance salesman and murderer in the 1944 film, Double Indemnity. In so many scenes, from his first meeting with Barbara Stanwyck, the wife of the man he would ultimately kill for his life insurance money, to a secret rendezvous in a grocery store, MacMurray has an undisguised devious look in his eyes yet a guarded set to his lips.Crow-gun-Web-opt-w-title619 (It’s a different, yet equally dishonest countenance he bore as Lt. Tom Keefer in The Caine Mutinty.)

Combine MacMurray’s persuasive performance with his two assured costars, Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson plus a script by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on the James M. Cain novel, and you have what many people think is the finest noir film ever made.

What do you think?

What are the best noir films?

Mystery fiction scholar Francis M. Nevins defines noir as, “…the kind of bleak, disillusioned study in the poetry of terror that flourished in American mystery fiction during the 1930s and 1940s and in American crime movies during the forties and fifties. The hallmarks of the noir style are fear, guilt and loneliness, breakdown and despair…” Although many noir films were stylish, often featuring avant garde cinematography, as Nevins points out, happy endings were rare.

If you do a Google search for “favorite noir movies” you immediately see a spread of movie posters in this order:

  1. Double Indemnity
  2. The Maltese Falcon
  3. The Third Man
  4. Out of the Past

It would be difficult to argue with that selection. The Internet Movie Database says Sunset Boulevard and Night of the Hunter edge out Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, though the latter film is ranked number five.

Films based on novels by the leading detective writers of the period rank high in many ratings. In addition to Double Indemnity, Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice is another highly rated noir flick. The Maltese Falcon novel was written by noir master Dashiell Hammett and Chandler novels also became classic noir films such as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

The writer who I would count as the fourth of the great noir authors, Cornell Woolrich, had more than two dozen of his novels and stories made into movies, many, unfortunately were forgettable adaptations. His most famous, Rear Window, was a superb suspense movie with many noir elements, not the least of which was the villainous Raymond Burr.

Other films I think you should consider for your top ten include: Brighton Rock, Lost Weekend, Touch of Evil and Kiss Me Deadly. Sydney, Australia, blogger, Tom D’Ambra, has one of the most comprehensive noir film websites you can find. Among his many suggestions: Journey Into Fear, I Wake Up Srcreaming and The Seventh Victim.

Many noir fans have favorite lines from films. One of mine comes from Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. He stares at Humphrey Bogart as he says, “By gad, sir, you are a character.”

So, think of some noir characters yourself, and let me know your favorite films of the noir era.



Tom D’ambra on noir films


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