Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: Mystery novels

Rock music: setting a tone for murder?

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The Marijuana Murders

Nostalgia City, the theme park setting for the mysteries in this series, is a 1970s town complete with period cars, clothes, hairstyles, music, fashions, food, fads—the works.  One of the most important of those elements is music.  In The Marijuana Murders (as in the previous Nostalgia City books) I use the names of real songs (and artists) to establish the decades-past setting of the park and sometimes to contribute to the mood of individual scenes or chapters.

It helps if you remember some of the songs or at least recognize the names of the old singers and groups.  Recollection of the music can help you slip into the ambiance of a scene, and nowhere is music more important to a setting than in Chapter 3 when Kate walks into the park’s famous headshop.  Imagine the aroma of incense, the fluorescent glow of psychedelic posters, and the sound of Ravi Shankar’s sitar.

In this book, Lyle has chosen a few bars of Chuck Mangione for his cell phone ringer.  He uses an upbeat section of Mangione’s Grammy-nominated “Feels So Good” from 1977.  Lyle must have chosen the selection on a particularly bright day considering the grief he faces in the novel.

Two other notable songs from the book are “Treat her Like a Lady by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose and “Take It to the Limit” by the Eagles.  It’s the rhythm of the former song that sets a pace in a later chapter and the lyrics of the latter song that more accurately reflect Lyle’s general feelings.

The books ends with the light touch of Olivia Newton-John singing “Magic.” The song sat at #1 on Billboard’s pop chart for four weeks in 1980. Other groups and artists mentioned include The Village People, Barry White, The Monkees, The Who, Captain and Tennille, and The Animals. 

Finally, to get into the retro spirit of the book, try to remember these oldies, also mentioned:  “Along Comes Mary” – The Association, “Puff the Magic Dragon” – Peter, Paul and Mary, “Maggie Mae” – Rod Stewart.

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.

—————

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.

Author Hagerty mixes historical fact with mystery fiction

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David Hagerty has penned four books in the Duncan Cochrane mystery series about an ambitious businessman who decides to run for Governor of Illinois. Six weeks before election day, his daughter is murdered in his mansion along the Chicago lakefront. All four books detail the fallout from that case on his family and his state. 

Hagerty presently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Here he talks about his approach to the mystery genre, his real-life settings and his inspirations.

 

What inspired your series?

All of my books started with real events. The first, They Tell Me You Are Wicked, was inspired by the murder of U.S. Sen. Charles Percy’s daughter six weeks before his first election in 1966. It is the most famous crime in the history of my hometown, Kenilworth, Illinois, and one that allowed me to blend my pet themes of crime and politics.

The other books riffed off Mayor Jane Byrne’s decision to move into the city’s most infamous housing project after a series of sniper killings there, the Tylenol poisonings, and the Innocence Project. For me, these events hold as much prominence in Chicago lore as the bootlegging of Al Capone or the death of John Dillinger. 

 

Why set your mystery series in the 70s/80s?

In Chicago, it constituted the end of an era in politics. Richard J. Daley, who’d held the mayor’s office and the city for nearly two decades, had just passed away. His democratic Machine was fragmented by conflicting interests and a vacuum of leadership. It seemed the perfect time to introduce an ambitious, naive aspirant to the Second City’s throne.

 

Since your books take place decades ago, you can’t use some of the modern crime fighting technology.

I’d rather not depend on science in a story. Cell phones, CSI tricks, and modern science dilute the story and rob the characters of agency. I prefer the style of Foyle’s War, where the detective has to figure things out from clues. Thus, setting a mystery in an era before DNA appealed to me.

 

Why do you use pop culture in your books?

When I started this series, I struggled with how best to capture the time. Unlike TV or movies, where visual cues often identify the period, I didn’t want to spend too much ink on describing the blender or the telephone a character is using. Instead, I pulled in references to cue the reader, such as the movies or songs that are playing.

David Hagerty

I also used period slang for several of the characters, both because I think it spices up the dialogue and because it’s true to the time. Not every character, of course. I don’t want the attorney general saying “groovy.” Just enough so everyone has his or her own sound.

 

You also have a penchant for real places.

Chicago has so much history and so many iconic places, I decided it was better to include those than to fabricate a locale. So I used the Palmer House and Drake hotels, two of the city’s most prestigious. My characters eat at Manny’s Deli and the Billy Goat Tavern, two local dives popular with politicians and journalists. They live in the Marina Towers and work in the John Hancock Center. I want readers to learn about the city’s past and its famous (and obscure) habitats.  Continue Reading →

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