Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: New mystery book

How this classic car became stranded in the desert

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The Pontiac on the cover of my new book, Desert Kill Switch, is a bona fide classic.  A high-powered muscle car from the early 1970s, the Firebird is immaculately restored and lovingly maintained. How I found it is as much a mystery as the ones my amateur detectives solve in the novel.

Authors aren’t always involved in the creation of their book covers.  For my first nonfiction book I got a chance to see the cover before printing because I flew to New York to see my publisher.  On the next  book,  I saw the cover when it came out.  My present publisher, Black Opal Books, is relatively small and my editor there was open to my ideas, indeed to my work to create the cover.  I’ve done photography professionally so I planned to take the cover photo myself, then turn it over to the cover’s designer.

Finding this beautiful 1972 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was slightly more difficult than finding the inhospitable desert scene for the cover of Desert Kill Switch.

Before I’d finished writing the book, I knew a vintage car belonged on the cover.  And a bleak desert landscape.

Vintage muscle cars, including a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, figure prominently in the plot.  The setting of all the Nostalgia City mysteries (book #3 coming soon, I’m working on #4) is an Arizona retro theme park that recreates a 1970s small town, complete with everything from the period from music and hairstyles to stores and automobiles.  In Desert Kill Switch, protagonist Kate Sorensen supervises an exhibit booth at a vintage car and rock and roll festival in Reno, Nevada, to attract nostalgia aficionados to the Arizona park.

So with the Arizona and Nevada deserts as the locales and classic cars as the outstanding set pieces, imagining the cover photo was not difficult.  Finding a showroom-condition cruiser—and a willing owner—was a greater challenge.

I live in Reno where an actual summer retro festival, Hot August Nights, is held annually, attracting more than 6,000 classic cars from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries.  Part of my inspiration for creating Nostalgia City came from this event, Reno’s largest.

The problem was, I didn’t get around to actually deciding on a cover photo until months after the festival had ended and the beautiful wheels had rolled back to their various home towns. I might have had my pick of vintage Mustangs, T-birds, Camaros, Barracudas and other terrors of the boulevard.

Instead, I started looking locally by checking out the websites of vintage car clubs in the area.  I saw a few promising models, but I either couldn’t get in touch with the owners or they were not interested.

No sign of civilization anywhere in this shot of the Nevada Great Basin Desert. But it’s really just 30 miles north of Reno.

While I searched for a car, I also explored the area around Reno for an appropriate setting.  I wanted a photo that showed nothing but desert and hills.  No buildings, no power lines, no billboards or signs of any type.  Northern Nevada is mostly open space.  In fact, the whole state is open space, so you’d think it would not be difficult to find a suitably desolate spot.  Of course I could use Photoshop to remove utility poles or other signs of civilization, but if an image is cleaner to begin with, fewer artificial enhancements are necessary.

Reno is bordered on the west by the soaring mountains of the Sierra Nevada so that left three directions to explore, and ultimately I found my spot about 30 miles north of town.  Now I needed the car.

A Firebird Trans Am on a San Francisco car club website caught my attention.  It was similar to a car that disappears early in the book and creates the story’s first mystery.  Coincidentally, this beautiful 1972 Trans Am was owned by James Mandas of Reno.  I emailed him and he agreed to have his car pose for a photo.  This was in September.

 We had an unusually rainy winter that year and for weeks the desert area I found for the photo was wet with standing water.  Not quite the dry, barren look I sought.   We scheduled and rescheduled the photo shoot over about two months.  I was thankful for Mandas’ patience.

Ultimately a dry, sunny November morning dawned.  Mandas hauled a covered trailer containing his handsome vintage Pontiac out to the desert and I spent two hours shooting the car from a variety of angles and elevations.

I had my cover photo.

The car’s raised hood and open door signal trouble.  The driver is missing.  The mystery begins.

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New offerings in mystery and suspense

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Louisiana intrigue

River of Secrets: A Wallace Hartman Mystery
Roger Johns
Minotaur Books  304 pages
August 2018
Kindle $14.99    Hardback $27.99

Herbert Marioneaux, a Louisiana state legislator with a reputation for changing his mind on sensitive issues, has been murdered. DNA evidence points directly at Eddie Pitkin, a social justice activist who furthers his causes by using confrontation and social media to make powerful, wealthy people very uncomfortable with their past.

Based on a long, well-documented history of conflict between Marioneaux and Pitkin, many in the court of public opinion are quick to call for Pitkin’s conviction. Wallace Hartman, the homicide detective assigned to the investigation, is also the childhood best friend of Pitkin’s half-brother so, in the eyes of some, her objectivity is in question from the beginning.

Wallace discovers an iffy alibi witness along with evidence of a troubled relationship between Marioneaux and his son that puts a cloud of suspicion over the son. Questions about the source of the DNA evidence begin to surface, Pitkin’s supporters and enemies square off in the street, and what began as an open and shut case becomes murky and politicized, sparking waves of violence across Baton Rouge.

And, at her time of greatest need, the prospect of sabotage from an unknown leaker within the police department forces Wallace to go it alone as she digs deep into the dark heart of the political establishment to untangle a web of old, disturbing secrets.

Roger Johns is the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year (Detective ▪ Mystery Category) for his debut novel, Dark River Rising, which has also been nominated for a Killer Nashville Reader’s Choice Award.  Along with four other crime fiction writers, he co-authors the MurderBooks blog at http://www.murder-books.com.  His website is www.rogerjohnsbooks.com.


Book giveaway

Enter the 10-copy giveaway of River of Secrets on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36742974-river-of-secrets?from_search=true. The giveaway ends September 3.

 

Spine tinglers for middle schoolers

Scream and Scream Again
Mystery Writers of America
Harper Collins  416 pages
July 2018
Kindle $9.99  Hardback $12.59

A harrowing array of scary stories for middle-grade readers that all have one thing in common: each either begins or ends with a scream!

R.L. Stine, the godfather of Goosebumps, and some of the most popular authors today bring an unrivaled mastery of all things fearsome, frightening, and fantabulous to this terrifying anthology of all-new scary short stories.

Scream and Scream Again! is full of twists and turns, dark corners, and devilish revenge. Collected in conjunction with the Mystery Writers of America, this set includes works from New York Times bestselling authors telling tales of wicked ice-cream trucks, time-travelling heroes, witches and warlocks, and of course, haunted houses.

It includes twenty never-before-published scary stories from some of the most popular authors today—including Alison McMahan’s Kamikaze Iguanas.

Alison McMahan grew up in Spain.As an adult she trudged through the jungles of Honduras and Cambodia, through the favelas of Brazil and from race tracks to drag strips in the U.S. in search of footage for her documentaries. Her most recent film is Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs (2010) narrated by Sam Waterston.

Online book prices vary depending on the day you order and the bookstore or website.

Join Eddie Collins, actor-turned PI, on a back-lot tour with laughs, deaths and Hollywood tales

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Murder Unscripted
Clive Rosengren
Coffee Town Press, Oct. 2017
240 pages
$5.95Kindle  $13.41 Trade paper

Passing by the famous Hollywood sign in the hills above tinsel town, Eddie Collins drives his Olds Cutlass though an uncharacteristically rainy Southern California afternoon.  “As the wipers droned back and forth like two annoying metronomes, I began to feel an emptiness oozing into me.”

He’s just learned that his ex-wife, movie actress Elaine Weddington, died in her trailer at Americana Pictures, a bottle of medicine lying next to her.  Accident or murder?  Although it’s been more than eight years since they split, as her career started to take off and Collins’ acting opportunities flattened out, he harbors good memories.

Weddington was in the middle of filming Flames of Desire and her death puts the movie’s future in jeopardy.  Since Americana Pictures had taken out a completion bond to protect the studio’s investment, the bond company hires a private investigator: Eddie Collins.

As his acting jobs became more hit or miss, he opened Collins Investigations to keep him “sane and solvent.”  Since he had worked for the bond company before, he is hired to look into the murder at the Flames of Desire set, regardless of his connection to Weddington.

Mixing crime and the movie biz, author Clive Rosengren starts his Eddie Collins mystery series with the Weddington case in Murder Unscripted.  Two other novels are in print, another is due out later this year and the author is working on book #5.  A Hollywood actor himself for many years, Rosengren knows his way around a movie set and treats readers to insider tidbits that make the story all the more realistic. 

After the rain, Rosengren says, “patches of water on the street…reflected the light like movie streets invariably do.  One never sees a dry street at night in the movies, even during the sweltering heat of the summer.”

A second murder complicates the case.  Collins is led all over the movie lot and outside to dingy bars as he questions, Sam Goldman, the studio head, along with movie stars, assistant directors and various hangers on, most with secrets that aren’t in the PI’s script.

The story progresses in a relaxed, comfortable style with Collins sharing reminiscences of films and actors of the past as he tries to establish the whereabouts of various suspects at the times the murders were committed.  Rosengren fills the book with Collins’ light-hearted observations that kept me smiling. 

“A lot of people stand around at a movie set.  The most popular place is the craft [catering] services tables.  Munchies abound, the bill of fare running the gamut from squeaky-clean to double-bypass.”

Collins is occasionally reminded of scenes from old movies.

“…I saw a bearded old man who looked like Walter Huston peering at me through the window.  His beady little eyes followed every move I made.  The spines of the cacti must be protecting his own Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Since I didn’t look like either Bogie or Tim Holt, he probably couldn’t figure out who the hell I was.”

Collins is 41, unmarried, tall and describes himself in Hollywood terms as a cowboy type.  He’s not a full-time shamus and an early chapter shows him dressed in western duds, acting in a TV commercial for Chubby’s Chicken.  After Collins and a partner have gone through 17 on-camera takes, including biting into the chicken, we learn the necessity of an actor’s spit bag. 

The PI side of Collins’ life is complete with a secretary loaded with moxie, a small office and tiny attached apartment, a fondness for Jim Beam and beer chasers and an occasional eye for attractive women.

“She always dressed in richly colored blouses that gave the faint suggestion of a woman who didn’t mind staying out late.”

Rosengren has an enviable knack for phrasing:

“She looked as uncomfortable as Gidget sitting in the middle of an Elk’s convention.”

“As lonely as an Orange County Democrat” referring to one of California’s few right-wing enclaves.

Searching for a wandering dog, Collins observes: 

“There was no sign of Clyde, other than what he had deposited on the lawn.”

Collins has such a smooth, somehow familiar narrative voice—a term usually applied to authors, but I’m applying to the first person point of view character here—he sounds like someone you would like to know.

Just as life is a journey, not a destination, you read Rosengren to follow Collins’  intriguing, at times idiosyncratic—and wholly entertaining—life as he pokes around his Hollywood haunts in search of the truth.   Naturally, he ultimately solves the murders, but getting there is the most fun.  Then, of course,  you crave another case with Eddie.

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Book prices vary depending on the day and the bookstore or website.
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