Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: book review

Dark Ride Deception– sneaky preview: Secrets revealed!

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As I was saying last time, I love theme parks. And since the time I worked for one, I’ve thought a theme park would be a great setting for a murder mystery.  So let’s start at the beginning.

Many, many years ago I was a young copywriter in the advertising department at Knott’s Berry Farm. At the time, Knott’s was an old west ghost town complete with roving gunslingers. It also included a charming combination of carnival type rides, shops and some new, inventive attractions.  Although I spent most of my time in an office writing ads and commercials, I had an opportunities to work on the park grounds, explore behind the scenes, and get to know some of the costumed employees who entertained guests.

Knott’s Berry Farm ghost town

Not so many years ago, when I found a publisher for my first murder mystery, the story was set in a theme park, based in part on my earlier experiences at Knott’s.  But instead of fashioning my theme park like Knott’s—or any other park—I wanted to do something different. I created an entire 1970’s small town, Nostalgia City. It’s a trip back in time, a meticulous re-creation,  complete with pet rocks, leisure suits, disco and period cars from Pontiacs to Pintos.

Four years ago, as I mentioned last time, I went to Disney World with my two grown daughters. It was a trip of a lifetime and I picked up further inspiration. Nostalgia City, I decided, needed new, high-tech dark rides, thus the title of my next book: Dark Ride Deception. A dark ride is simply theme park jargon for indoor attractions.  The old-fashioned boat ride through the tunnel of love is a dark ride dating back more than a century.

Is this the type of theme park ride that the Perception Deception Effect can create?

To supply Nostalgia City’s new dark rides, the park’s computer genius Tom Wyrick created the Perception Deception Effect. His mind-bending technology could easily eclipse the entire theme park industry. But the ride technology disappeared—along with Wyrick. Nostalgia City’s ex-cop cab driver, Lyle Deming, is drafted to find the computer wiz and recover his secrets.  The obvious places to look, Lyle’s boss tells him, are other theme parks.

Lyle is relatively tech savvy, but the details of the Perception Deception Effect prove perplexing. He gets technical help from a Nostalgia City engineer who becomes a little too over-excited about sleuthing.

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The novel focuses not on high-tech minutia but on intrigue and Lyle’s struggles.

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The plot is obviously based in part on the science behind dark rides, and one of the book’s characters, a Nostalgia City computer programmer, dissects one of Disney’s most famous, yet relatively unsophisticated rides.  But the novel focuses not on high-tech minutia but on intrigue and Lyle’s personal struggles as he searches for the secrets.  He hides behind a variety of false identities to investigate Florida parks—from the inside—yet when someone threatens to blow his cover…

But that’s enough of a preview.  Like I said, I love theme parks, and I loved writing about them in Dark Ride Deception. 

The book is available for preorder wherever you get your e-books.  It will be released Sept. 20.

Escape Covid-19; Get lost in a book

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Survival guide part 2

Spring is here, and no one is celebrating.  

But once you’ve taken all the sensible precautions and are staying home and safe (and have on a clean pair of pajamas) you have options to make life more enjoyable.  A positive attitude is a good start.  You control what’s going on in your head.  Why not focus on something other than the virus.  Pick up a book.  

Welcome to my survival guide, based on simple things I’ve been doing to offset the grim news.

My coping advice began with cookies (see part 1).  Next, dive into a good novel and get transported away. Getting lost in a mystery lets you take a brief but necessary vacation from reality.  The respite can revive and help you reassess priorities. If you’re working outside your house or are busy home schooling your kids, squeeze in an hour or so of reading when you can. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to escape the uncertain present. 

My wife and I were away from home in California when the Covid-19 alarms belatedly started to sound and Governor Gavin Newsom issued one of the first lock-down orders in the country. To get home we had to drive through the Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevadas, but a series of snow storms had taken up residence. Add to that I had acquired a sinus infection—something that had me taking my temperature every few hours to be sure it wasn’t you-know-what. I was sick and  stuck in our tiny vacation rental, so I turned to books.

Here are recommendations and a caution.

Praise for Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is everywhere.  It’s a beautiful coming of age story, an invitation to explore and appreciate nature—from frolicking microscopic life to squawking gulls—a love story of sorts and a meditation on social isolation. It’s also a mystery. Blended seamlessly, these elements create a story that will carry you away to the coastal marshlands of North Carolina and make you forget just about all else.  It was the first book I read when the lock-down began and was just what I needed.

 

Next, when the bad news completely seeped into my consciousness, I reached for The Plague by Albert Camus. I’d read it years ago and still had it on my Kindle. Very timely I thought, but I couldn’t read more than a few chapters.  It’s too realistic. First, the rats start dying…  It’s a classic by the French existentialist author, complete with allegory, but not for now.

 

 

I’ve been working my way through Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer PI series and picked up The Zebra Striped Hearse. This complex story, published in 1962, begins with a rich ex-military man hiring Archer to dig up dirt on his daughter’s fiancée who he suspects of being a gold digger. The repressed 24-year-old daughter has fallen for an itinerant artist who’s been traveling under a variety of aliases.

Macdonald displays his Chanderesque style—“The officers on duty took turns looking at my license as if it was something I’d found in a box of breakfast cereal”—and propels his protagonist through multiple deaths and locales from rural Mexico to Malibu to Tahoe. It’s an emotional ride populated mostly by melancholy characters and it comes with a twist-upon-twist ending. The book appeals to your head and heart. 

The Cohen Bros are reportedly working on a film version that, from early accounts, will carry the novel’s name and little else from the book.

 

Takeoff by Joseph Reid is a thriller with mystery elements revealed gradually through the fast-moving story.  The foundation of the book is the well-rendered relationship between Max, a rising sixteen-year-old female rock star, and Seth Walker an emotionally vulnerable federal air marshal assigned to protect the recalcitrant phenom on a cross-country flight.  When they land at LAX instead of handing off Max and getting back to his regular job, Walker and his charge are greeted with automatic weapons fire. The two go on the run, pursued by unknown gunmen while Walker suspects betrayal by federal agents.  Walker is an electrical engineer with more than a dozen patents to his name and uses his ingenuity to keep he and Max alive while he tries to uncover details in the young girl’s past that may be influencing her present.  Likable characters in bad trouble make for an engrossing read.

 

My next read, after we’d finally made it home, was a book I’d purchased a few years before and never had much time for.  Know the feeling? The Big Book of Pulps is a collection of dozens of noir stories from the 1920s through 1940s. The table of contents looks like a directory of the best authors in the genre.  Rather than begin at the beginning, I started with my favorite authors. The book contains three stories each by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich and Dashiell Hammett. Other authors include James. M. Cain; Carroll John Daly, credited with writing the first U.S. detective novel; and Earl Stanley Gardner. In one Gardner story, Ken Corning, precursor to Perry Mason, leaps on the running board of a car and battles gunmen. Not the deft courtroom-style exchange you might expect from watching Raymond Burr.

Each story is introduced with commentary by Otto Penzler, editor and owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.  He provides useful biographical information on the authors, background on the stories and when and where each was originally published.  As the book’s title suggests, all the stories were first published in inexpensive pulp mystery magazines such as The Black Mask.

At 1,163 pages and weighing more than two pounds it requires two hands, a table or bookstand to read comfortably.  Each page contains two columns of type so the book may actually be much longer than its page count indicates.  In addition to short stories, the book includes two complete novels.

The last episode of my survival guide, on movies, will arrive in this space tomorrow

Heard any good books lately?

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How a talented author/actor gives his PI a voice

Red Desert (An Eddie Collins Mystery Book 2)
Clive Rosengren
Coffeetown Press   186 pages
September 2017
Audible $17.95, Kindle $5.95, Trade paperback $14.95

I have mixed feelings about audio books.  They’re convenient when you’re driving, flying, walking or doing something that precludes reading.  The spoken words of a good actor or announcer can carry you away as when you’re engrossed in the printed page.  But sometimes the narrators sound as if they were auditioning for a Broadway play and their intonations  overwhelm the story.   This can be especially true of male actors doing female voices and vice versa. 

Another popular option for recorded books is to have the author read.  Authors know where their stories should speed up or slow down and which words require emphasis.  But authors are not trained announcers.  Some do a remarkably good job, others, not so much.  I recently listened to a book read by an acclaimed Australian author.  His heavy down-under accent added authenticity, but you had to listen closely to catch every word.

Now comes Clive Rosengren and his Eddie Collins mysteries.  Rosengren is a retired actor, Ed Wood, Soapdish, Seinfeld, Cheers, who writes PI novels.  A good combination for an audio book?  I read his debut mystery, Murder Unscripted.  It’s original, engaging and funny. So when I faced a long driving trip and thought about listening to a book, I downloaded Rosengren’s Red Desert from Audible. 

Rosengren reads the book like he wrote it. Because he did.  The first person point of view, common for PI novels, lets Rosengren talk directly to us as Collins.  He often sounds as if he’s telling us a story, recounting something that’s happening to him, rather than reading a book.  He renders the voices of the various other characters with enough difference in tone or pitch—and sometimes speed—so you know someone else is talking, but he doesn’t try to do impressions like Dana Carvey. 

Actors reading others’ books can recognize an argument or fight scene and ramp up the vocal tension, but an author who wrote the novel should have a good idea of how to voice the entire book.  Thus, for example, Rosengren is able to deliver Collins’ offhand observations and asides with the appropriate deadpan or enthusiasm depending on the circumstances.

And the story here is not beside the point.  It is the point.  Collins is a part-time Hollywood actor who started a detective agency to supplement his on-again, off-again show business career.

When someone breaks into the home of Mike Ford, a top leading man, Ford’s girlfriend is killed—drowned in the swimming pool—and the actor’s Oscar is stolen.  Ford taps his friend Collins for help.   He shows Collins anonymous, threatening letters he’s received and says he has no idea who might have sent them or what the motive might have been.

Collins’ investigation takes him from his Hollywood office to Venice, Calif., a seaside suburb developed after the turn of the 20th century with canals serving as residential streets. 

As Collins tries to determine why Ford is being hounded, a fire is burning in the San Gabriel mountains above LA. “A bloodshot moon hovered over Burbank. The air was pungent with the smell of smoke from fires burning in the hills—a yearly occurrence.”  The fire casts a pall over the city and colors the story.

During his investigation, Collins comes across Reggie, an old Army buddy who is now homeless and on the street.  Collins tries to rehabilitate his old friend, offering him a job doing surveillance on the case.  Reggie turns out to be one of the strong, likable support characters in the book in addition to Collins’ secretary, Mavis.

One thread in the case leads Collins to Red Desert, a film Ford directed and starred in.  Ford recalls his remake of a 1949 pot boiler as a “tough shoot: heat, script problems, casting snafus, you name it.”   

When Reggie is watching Ford’s home, a photograph he snaps turns into a valuable clue. Then things get hot. As the fire rages in the mountains, an assault and a kidnapping raise the stakes and Collins and Reggie find themselves on the defensive.

The affable Collins with his porkpie hat and lack of tech savvy is a PI with a sense of humor and a knowledge of Hollywood he uses to good effect.  Following him and Reggie around is a kick, and Red Desert is a delight that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

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Clive Rosengren was an actor for nearly 40 years, 18 of them pounding many of the same streets as does his fictional actor/PI Eddie Collins.  Rosengren is a multiple Shamus Award nominee by the Private Eye Writers of America.  His other Eddie Collins books include Murder Unscripted, Martini Shot and Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon. He lives in southern Oregon.

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