Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Reno

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.

‘Desert Kill Switch’ by the numbers

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2,000,000
The estimated number of kill switches (and GPS trackers) presently active in cars financed in the US

85,686
Number of words in the book

774
Number of cups of Lapsang Souchong tea I drank while writing

450
Number of miles from Las Vegas to Reno

367
Number of days it took me to write it  (That’s elapsed days. Some few days I didn’t work. I was riding my bike, driving to Canada, etc. )

330
Number of pages

79
Number of times my dog interrupted me asking for attention or a walk

74.5
Height, in inches, of my protagonist Kate Sorensen

71
Number of Chapters

45
Age of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am on the cover

24
Number of characters  This number is approximate.  Some characters are so minor they are not counted and some are dead.

17
Percent of the book I wrote while sitting in an Adirondack chair in my back garden

8
Number of times I use the f-word.  This is not excessive for a crime novel this long with lots of nasty characters.  But I cut it down in my next book. (See an upcoming post on the use of profanity in mystery novels.)

7
Number of years my publisher, Black Opal Books, has been in business

5
Per cent of the book I wrote in my pajamas

3
Number of times I use the f-word in my next book

2
Number of times someone slugs protagonist Lyle

1
Number of pictures   It’s just a mug shot of me at the end.  This is not a picture book.

1
Number of times I use the word “awesome”  (It was in dialog.)

Book Review:

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Desert Kill Switch – Killer Classic Cars and Murder – Great Who Done It

Former cop Lyle Deming is now a cabbie at a new theme park located in Arizona appropriately named Nostalgia City. His life is much calmer now that he left the force, and he likes it that way. Unfortunately for him, things are about to change for the worse.

While driving home with his daughter, he sees a vintage car on the side of the road and next to the classic Firebird is a body. A very dead body full of bullets. He hustles back to his Mustang, the main thing on his mind is keeping his daughter safe if the killers are still around.

He phones the local police, but when they get to the spot, there is no car, no body and no evidence of a crime. Deming knows he wasn’t hallucinating, so he begins investigating the crime and the missing victim on his own. Before he can get a good handle on what happened he is called to Reno because a close friend and coworker, Kate Sorensen is in trouble.

Kate, PR director of Nostalgia City, is manning a booth at a huge classic car event. Reno’s Rockin’ Summer Days is a great place to advertise Nostalgia City where the only cars allowed in the park are vintage rides. When one of the big wigs in charge of the event ends up on the wrong end of a knife, Kate is the prime suspect because she is found with the dead body and rumor has it she is trying to get the event moved to Nostalgia City.

Deming has to help her find the real killer before she is arrested, because the evidence points at Kate. He believes her innocence, but no one else does. So the two co-workers that seem to want to be more than friends are playing hide and seek with the cops, trying to find a killer and most importantly stay alive. After all, there is a killer on the loose who would love to see Kate in jail for the crime he or she committed.

There are so many suspects with plausible reasons to kill Al Busick it was fun to find out who finally did it. He was a conniving man, a car dealer with questionable morals and undeniably hated by many. It was fun to be twisted and turned by the plot. The characters are interesting and varied, each playing a vital role no matter how big or small.

Desert Kill Switch is a fast read, but don’t confuse that with a simply written story. Bacon’s descriptions are a thing of beauty. When looking for a suspect, Deming is driving down a desert road. The dust his tires are kicking up is described as “…ghosts following his car…” And the reader knows that Deming is well read when he quotes Dickens.

From the descriptions of Nostalgia City, I would love to have someone build this blast from the past theme park. I am sure it would be a big hit with baby boomers as well as those a bit younger.

Bacon’s second Nostalgia City Mystery is the first I have read. It is fun, suspenseful and impossible to put down once you crack the spine. I am going to search out the first in the series and keep an eye out for the third which is promised to be published soon.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves an easy to read, well written novel with an intriguing plot. It is a must read for mystery loving vintage car fans.

–Laura Hartman
Writeknit.com

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