Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FIRST CHAPTER OF 'RHAPSODY IN BLACK' BY HECTOR LASSITER

On the eve of the release of three Hector Lassiter titles by Betimes Books, we present a rarely seen glimpse of the first draft of RHAPSODY IN BLACK, the debut novel Hector is seen writing in ONE TRUE SENTENCE.


  
RHAPSODY IN BLACK
By
Hector Lassiter
  
This novel is for Brinke Devlin
  
Chapter 1
I first met Alison Wilder in a bar at six o’clock on a Friday night.
By six thirty, I had agreed to kill a man for her.
Alison was a busty, beautiful brunette—a leggy looker to put a bump in a bishop’s robes.
She made the first move; slid into the seat across from me before I could send her a drink. Her opening line: “The men in here other than you…? So, I need you to keep them at bay. Can you do that for me?”
I said, “Not many women find their way in here.” That this woman had, and that she had seized on me? Well, it seemed too rich, even eyebrow-raising.
“I can see now why so few do,” she said giving the joint another once-over. “More wisdom come my way too late.” The woman put out a hand and we shook. Her hand was warm, strong. She told me her name.
I said back, “Nick Holt.” I let go of her hand with real reluctance.
A Key West August: She lifted her heavy dark hair from the back of her neck, then scooped an ice cube from the drink she’d brought to the table with her. Looked like a Cuba Libre she was drinking. She smoothed the ice cube across the back of her neck. I wished to be that sliver of ice, sliding damply across all that silky, cinnamon-tanned flesh and the soft dark down on the back of her neck.
“I came in on the ferry,” she said. “I don’t know this town. Didn’t know this was a men’s only joint.”
“Officially it isn’t,” I said. “It’s just the local women wisely give it a wide pass, mostly for the reason you said. The men in here? Well, as you can see…”
“Sure, except for you,” Alison said. “Doesn’t really seem your kind of place, either, Nick.”
“I had to meet a man in here earlier,” I said. “Had to wrap up some business.”
“You haven’t answered my question, Nick. Can you keep the men in here at bay?”
“Hell, I suppose,” I said. “I mean, if it was really necessary. But it won’t be. Now that you’re sitting here with me, I don’t expect it’ll be much of an issue. They’ll just stare and spit iron.” The mugs were certainly doing plenty of that. Her dress that bared much of her back and legs didn’t do anything to curb their interest.
“What do you do for living on this rock, Nick? You don’t look like a fisherman,”—a beat and a sultry half-smile—“or a rummy. I hear this rock is lousy with both.”
“I have a boat,” I said. “But I don’t do much fishing other than for recreation. Maybe take the occasional sports fisherman out when other work is scarce.”
Alison smiled. “And what is other work for you, Nick? What keeps the wolf from the door? Be specific.”
“Freelance stuff, mostly,” I said, trying very hard to be unspecific. I didn’t want to put a name to any of that: the rum running, refugee running. Some mercenary stuff and gun smuggling to Cuba, now and again.
Grinding out my cigarette, I finally had the presence of mind to check her ring finger. I’m slow that way, too often—too tardy getting around to scoping for wedding bands after some pretty thing has already pushed my buttons. It’s a trait that’s gotten me into trouble before. Not that it mattered in this case: the hook was already set; the die was cast.
Alison had a wedding band and a big rock on the third finger of her left hand. The knuckles of that hand were also bruised and a bit swollen. Pointing at that rock on her finger I said, “You’re married.”
She looked at my left hand, a big mitt whose back was matted with dark hair. “I am. And you’re not. At least not now.”
“Never have been,” I said. I was still focused on her status. Married. Another man’s woman. I studied her some more, making no effort to hide it. I took in her black hair, black eyes. She was all chest and legs and chiseled features. A woman unlike any other I’d seen pass through Bone Key in a long time: a raven, buxom dish.
I got out another cigarette, fired it up with my Zippo. “Why are you in this blind pig, Alison? It’s a drive. Hell, why are you on Bone Key? Surely you’re not here to fish. The bathtub booze around these parts is like acid, so ducking prohibition can’t be the lure.”
“The Cuban rum is plenty smooth,” Alison said, her little pink tongue sliding enticingly across her rum-wet lower lip. She was staring at my hands again. Her thumb traced a line across the knife scar etched into the back of my left hand. Her touch had me stirring south of the belt buckle. She said, “The heat down here. How do you stand it day-in and day-out?”
A shrug. “Rum and bathtubs. Bathtub rum. And, it’s a bit cooler at night. The near daily rain takes some of the heat off the afternoons.”
She scooped another cube from her glass. She traced this one across the sheen of her collarbones; up her long, fine neck, then down again to the swell of her breasts. Watching that sliver of ice lay a fresh gleam across the tops of her breasts, I said, “You still haven’t said why you’re here on Bone Key.”
“Along for the ride,” she said, watching me watch her. “I’m baggage, you might say.” She didn’t meet my gaze as she said that last.
“Where’s your husband?”
“Around.” A husky sigh. “He has business down here. Left me to roam a bit. Lucky me, huh?”
More like lucky me.
She tossed the nearly spent ice cube on the floor and began massaging one bruised and swollen hand with the other, pointedly drawing my attention to her damaged hand. I didn’t disappoint:
“Who’d you hit, sweetheart?”
“The one who was hitting me.” She said it just like that, straightforward and damn near toneless.
I searched her face again, looking for masked bruises on that pretty chin, on those chiseled cheekbones.
Nada.
Apparently a mind reader, too, she said, “He hits me where it doesn’t show. If you saw my stomach, saw my ribs?” She shuddered.
I almost asked for that proof. I sorely wanted to tear that clingy dress from her and bend her over the back of a couch and… and
“I… Well, I think he means to kill me, soon,” she said. “I really believe he means to have me murdered down here, far from New York.”
Get up and leave, I thought. You need to do that, right now, brother.
Sure, she’s pretty. Yes, she seems very available.
And, yeah, it’d make for a wild, panting, limb-tangled weekend that might extend well into the next.
But she’s clearly more than a bit crazy, Old Kid. She’s in a very bad spot.
And this bad husband of hers? What might he be?
But I didn’t stand up and walk away, then.
Her hand was stroking mine again. I said, “You’re joking about him killing you, aren’t you? Why do you say that?”
She quit rubbing her bruised hand and took a drink from her glass. “Yesterday, he said he wanted to do some of that sports fishing you talked about. We’ll go out tomorrow, he said. Far, far out to sea, he swore.”
Alison hesitated, then added, “Earlier today, he took out a life insurance policy on me. A big one. Yet money is tight for him, just now. And still he splurged on that insurance policy on me.” She bit her full, lower lip; that made me want to nip it, too. She said, “And…I think there’s another woman.”
Why another? Alison seemed plenty of woman, enough—too much, maybe—for any one man.
“You should go the police,” I said. That was a bit of a joke, in several ways. Not the least of those was the fact the local law was a sheriff who shuttled between several of the Keys. Even if he was competent, which he wasn’t, he was stretched too thin. Fella was a paper tiger, at best.
“I came here because I was told it’s the kind of place I could find a man who might…” Alison shrugged those bare, tanned shoulders, still glistening from those ice cubes. “You know.”
I knew. But I wanted her to say it.
“No,” I said. “Tell me.”
She fidgeted with her fingers. “I was told in here I might find a man who…who might take care of my husband before he kills me. But when I saw these other men in here, saw what they are like, I lost my nerve. I began to think what else they might ask of me beyond money. I saw you and…” Another shrug; a sad but beguiling hint of a smile.
Lucky me for certain, I thought. Oh, yes. So I look like a man who might kill for you and not ask for something other than money in return? That’s it?
“You have a boat, you said. You do some charters…?”
“Some. Here and there. Here to there.”
She smiled, eyes shining. She gripped my hands in hers. “I could direct him your way. You could take us out on the boat for this fishing trip. And then, if he tried something…?”
Now this was getting crazy; far too crazy.
Oh, I wanted her, of course. I wanted Alison in the worst way in every sense. I wanted to taste that sweet, sometimes mocking mouth. Wanted to feel those bare and damp legs wrap tightly around my waist; to savor her moving against me, bare belly tight against mine.
I said, “Alison…”
“He’s going to kill me, Nick. I know it. Probably he’s going to try and do that tomorrow. He might even offer you the job if he meets you and thinks you’re the kind who would do that sort of thing.”
Again, I was left shaking my head.
“But I’m not that kind,” I said, studying her some more. “Not even close.”
“But you could convince anyone you are. With your height, your build? Your scars…? You can make him think you’d do it, Nick. Then, when his guard is down…” She looked up at me from under black bangs. “You know.”
She was pleading with those black, depthless eyes.
Jesus Christ. So many ways to play it. I decided to blow holes in her plan:
“Honey, these men who are into sports fishing, they usually come down here with recommendations from others who’ve fished these waters. It’s a word-of-mouth trade. You being the woman you are, and clearly not one who’s tried to land a marlin or probably even a tarpon, well, your old man’s going to raise his eyebrows if you recommend for him a charter. You can see that, can’t you?”
She was unfazed. “He always lets me make his plans like that. He’s really helpless in some ways. Can’t make a dinner reservation, can’t book a boat ticket. And friends? He hasn’t any. Not like you’re talking about. I think I could easily enough direct him your way.”
“Listen, if he really means to kill you, and to do it on a boat, don’t you think he’s already found his skipper and craft? Don’t you figure money has already changed hands for that sorry boatman to look the other way?”
Alison shook her head. “It wouldn’t have to be that way,” she said. “He could knock me off the back of the boat, then be a while noticing I’m missing. Make it look like an accident.”
“That sounds just as crazy,” I said. “If you went off the side, your screams—”
“It would be an accident, like I described,” Alison said. “Or it would look that way. I’d fall, strike my head. Go overboard apparently unconscious. It would appear I’d accidentally drowned.”
“That’s pretty fanciful stuff,” I said. “No way anyone would try something like that outside of the pulp novels or movies. Never for real.”
Defiant eyes: “He’s already done it once. He got away with it, too.”
Now what the hell? I said, “You better explain that to me.”
Alison closed her hand over mine. Again, I felt this stirring. “He killed his own brother to take over the business they ran together. He said his brother was in danger of sinking their company. Said he was ‘a degenerate drunk and gambler.’ They were returning from Europe on a liner. He said he tossed his brother off the back of the ship. Made it look like a suicide.” She shook her head. “He smiled when he told me. So…proud.”
“Why would he ever confess something like that to you?”
“I was threatening to leave him. He said he doesn’t like to lose things. He was trying to scare me into staying. Boasting, too. Trying to surprise me at how vengeful he can be. Bent on showing me what he was capable of, I suppose.” She stared at her bruised knuckles again. “When he mentioned this fishing trip, well, it got my mind going to dark places, Nick.”
Very dark places, I thought.
Hell, it seemed she was fully committed to retaliating first, bless her dark heart.
“He left me at the hotel,” Alison said. “He said I should ask around about a good charter service. So, you see, I can send him your way, Nickie. No trouble at all about that. And I’ll pay you. But I don’t have much, just a thousand dollars.”
Just a grand. Big money to most anyone but Alison, it seemed. I chewed my lip. The extra money I could surely use. Hell, I could always use more gelt. Sure, I could take them out for a fishing run. I could watch him carefully to see Alison didn’t go over the side, or the like. And then?
And then?
Then I guessed I could just play it by ear. I would play the game up to a point… Perhaps up to exactly the point that might land this woman in my bed.
 “I’d take the charter, but only to play bodyguard,” I said. “I’m no assassin, Alison. I’ll see you safely on and off the boat. Deal?”
She shook her head, glum now. “It could never be that simple, Nick. If he tries to kill me, if he has to try and kill you…?”
“Who’d steer the boat for him then?”
“He’s got a sailboat, back east, “ she said. “He might think he could get himself back ashore. And he might even be right.”
“Well, it won’t be like that, anyway. I’m sure I can handle him.”
Her dark eyes searched mine. “But what if you can’t?”
I said, “Then…I’d do what was needed to protect us. To protect you.”
“So you would kill him, then.” She assessed me from under long, dark lashes, sizing me up again. “I mean, if you had to do that thing to him?”
It was hypothetical stuff, at best, I told myself. Crazy talk that amounted to less than nothing.
Not thinking about it too hard, just casually tossing it off as a crazy promise I’d never have to deliver on, I said, “Sure. I’d kill him if came to that. Sure I would.”
Alison smiled and squeezed my hand harder. “I’m sure you must know some place better than this one, Nickie. Some place quieter and more secluded? Some place we could do what we both want to do to one another? Some place away from here where we can be truly alone, just the two of us? Far enough away from here to be safe?”
“Sure I said. There are plenty of places like that.”
I was wrong about all that, of course.
There was no place that far.

© 1924 by Hector Mason Lassiter/Renewed 2010 by Hector Lassiter, LTD/Night Town Books

Author’s Note: On Aug. 21, 2014, the Hector Lassiter series returns from Betimes Books with the first three novels in the chronologically re-sequenced series. On that day, ONE TRUE SENTENCE, its never-before-seen sequel FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND and TOROS & TORSOS will become available in brand new trade paperback and eBook formats. A few weeks later, two new Hector Lassiter novels will follow, THE GREAT PRETENDER (featuring Orson Welles) and a WWII memoir narrated by Hector, ROLL THE CREDITS. On the run up to the series return, I’ll be revisiting some pieces written about ONE TRUE SENTENCE, the “new first novel” (sequentially speaking) in the Lassiter series.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

THE NOT SO SIMPLE ART OF MURDER, BY HECTOR LASSITER


Good Guys, Bad Guys
&
The Not So Simple Art of Murder
By Hector Lassiter

(Originally printed in Writer’s Review, October 1957)

HECTOR LASSITER
I live and die by words.

In addition to writing novels, I’m an occasional screenwriter and journalist.

On any given day, the newspaper I string for has more than its share of crime reporting. Occasionally, when somebody gets murdered by another in the reading area, family members from both sides of the crime—the loved ones of the victims and of the presumed perpetrators—reach out to the reporters or editors.

They maybe do that in an attempt to shape coverage.

Sometimes it’s to try and give the paper’s staff a fuller sense of the victim. Sometimes it seems it’s simply to talk. Their grief is always unimaginable. Their sense of loss is palpable and clearly nearly insupportable.

The family of the villains are particularly tricky to talk to. They can’t get around their own memories of their loved ones.

There’s an old saying among fiction writers: “The villain is the hero of his own story.” I’m not sure villains really think that way about themselves, but their loved ones unquestionably do.

Then there are the instances when loved ones of the victims are still trying to kindle the fire under cold cases. They come seeking a retrospective news story that might put backward pressure on law enforcement to give an unsolved crime a fresh look. The crime might be a decade old, but wounds of survivors are still raw and hurting.

This is all to make clear that every death means something.

Consequently, I can’t take a crime like homicide casually, even in fiction. To my mind, too many crime and mystery authors do just that. They trivialize or gloss loss. Corpses, like car chases, are just another genre trope to these so-called writers.

In truth, most murder victims know their killer.

Terrible fact is, if you’re going to end up murdered, you’re probably going to be killed by someone you know, and it’s going to be on impulse. It’s going to be messy and it’s apt to be stupid or spastic in its execution.

This is where I run into trouble with a lot of my presumed peers. I call myself a “crime writer” for a reason. I’m emphatically not a “mystery writer.” That term I regard as a kind of obscenity.

Treating murder as a bloodless affair, something cozy mystery writers like Estelle Quartermain and her ilk do all the time, is a more offensive creative choice than depicting a crime in all its graphic squalor, at least to my mind.

In Paris, in the 1920s, I made the acquaintance of a very talented female “mystery writer” who came around to my way of seeing things in terms of murder and its treatment on the page.

Having just witnessed the commission of a couple of true-life, brutal killings, mystery author Brinke Devlin was left questioning the morality of her own previous writings.

She confessed, I write comedies of manners with bloodless murder stirred in… Locked-room mysteries can get a little deadening after a while… In life, arguments escalate and a too-hard blow falls. A man comes home from work early because he’s feeling ill and finds his wife in bed with his brother, or with the fellow down the hall. Sex fiends murder strangers as opportunity arises. Robberies go bad and somebody innocent dies. Killers simply don’t kill for the complex or arcane reasons that they do in mystery novels.”
BRINKE DEVLIN

Her epiphany ultimately drove Brinke Devlin to reinvent herself; to write very different kinds of novels in which the terror and obscenity of murder wasn’t slighted simply to advance some puzzle plot.

My new novel, The Land of Dread and Fear, focuses on a single murder. A rock is thrown into a quiet pond and the ripples not only spread wide, but gain momentum as they radiate out from the point of impact. Actions have consequences; sometimes terrible ones.

I feel a sacred obligation to give a true sense of what the act of murder exacts in every direction.
It’s an old argument really—this debate between how realistically murder should be depicted in crime and “mystery” novels.

In a famous essay titled “The Simple Art of Murder,” my old Black Mask stable mate Raymond Chandler famously wrote of Dashiell Hammett, “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.”

I have my own guidelines for the stories I tell: “Character is plot. Obsession is motivation. The quest, whatever else it may appear to be, is always a search for self—a race against time to a blood-spritzed epiphany. When that light bulb goes on, the world goes dark. No happy endings.”

Dear reader: Every life touches other lives.

Consequently, the snuffing out of a life should do the same thing.

© Hector Lassiter, 1957

Author, screenwriter and journalist Hector Lassiter makes his home in southern New Mexico. He is the author of numerous, critically praised crime novels and the screenwriter of several critically acclaimed thrillers. He is also the protagonist of ONE TRUE SENTENCE, coming Aug. 21, 2014 from Betimes Books.

NEXT: The first chapter of Hector Lassiter's first-published novel.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

GERTRUDE STEIN & ERNEST HEMINGWAY: MYSTERY FANS


Author’s Note: On Aug. 21, 2014, the Hector Lassiter series returns from Betimes Books with the first three novels in the chronologically re-sequenced series. On that day, ONE TRUE SENTENCE, its never-before-seen sequel FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND and TOROS & TORSOS will become available in brand new trade paperback and eBook formats. A few weeks later, two new Hector Lassiter novels will follow, THE GREAT PRETENDER (featuring Orson Welles) and a WWII memoir narrated by Hector, ROLL THE CREDITS. On the run up to the series return, I’ll be revisiting some pieces written about ONE TRUE SENTENCE, the “new first novel” (sequentially speaking) in the Lassiter series.


The conflict between literary vs. genre fiction is an old and storied war with no good end in sight.

My novels featuring author Hector Lassiter are pitched at the center of that perhaps unwinnable cultural siege.

Hector, a consummate survivor who comes to be known as “the last man standing of the Lost Generation” went to 1920s Paris dreaming of becoming a literary writer. He emerged a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter compelled to apologize for his work to his literary friends who people my novels: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams…Gertrude Stein.
Alice B. Toklas &
Gertrude Stein

My novel One True Sentence, is the one in which Stein and Hemingway cast their longest shadows. OTS is a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s Paris memoir A Moveable Feast as a historical thriller. The murders of literary magazine publishers plague the Left Bank; Stein gathers the city’s foremost mystery writers to catch the killer.

Stein, the Modernist grand dame of 1920s Paris — the woman who coined the phrase “Lost Generation” and an avant-garde experimenter in prose whose writings remain opaque or even unreadable to the most patient of readers — was, in fact, an avid fan of mystery fiction. Stein affectionately dubbed favorite crime fiction authors her “mystifiers.” She contended the mystery novel was “the only really modern novel form.”

When a young Hemingway, newly arrived in Paris and bearing a letter of introduction from novelist Sherwood Anderson first visited Stein in her salon, he left with many literary recommendations, including Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper novel, The Lodger.
Marie Belloc Lowndes

Stein’s preface to that reading recommendation was charged: “You should,” she said, “only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.” Lowndes’ writing, Stein assured, was “marvelous in its own way.”

Hemingway agreed: “I read all the Mrs. Belloc Lowndes that there was… I never found anything as good for that empty time of day or night until the first fine Simenon books came out.” For his part, Hemingway remained a crime fiction fan, reading Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming when they were each new and still largely under the reading public’s radar.
Scene from first film adaptation of THE LODGER.

Hemingway’s Key West-based To Have and Have Not, for much of its early going, reads like a hardboiled crime novel.

Consistent with her insistence upon always having the last word, consider Stein’s rather mysterious summation of the value of the mystery novel:

By having the man dead to begin with the hero is dead to begin with and so you have so to speak got rid of the event before the book begins… The only person of any importance is dead.”

That “important” dead person, to Stein’s mind, was the traditional literary hero. Detectives, therefore, were the survivors, and as such, what Stein termed a new kind of “literary hero.”

NEXT: The first of two prose pieces, in Hector's own words...

Friday, August 15, 2014

HEMINGWAY'S PARIS REMAINS 'A MOVEABLE FEAST'


Author’s Note: On Aug. 21, 2014, the Hector Lassiter series returns from Betimes Books with the first three novels in the chronologically re-sequenced series. On that day, ONE TRUE SENTENCE, its never-before-seen sequel FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND and TOROS & TORSOS will become available in brand new trade paperback and eBook formats. A few weeks later, two new Hector Lassiter novels will follow, THE GREAT PRETENDER (featuring Orson Welles) and a WWII memoir narrated by Hector, ROLL THE CREDITS. On the run up to the series return, I’ll be revisiting some pieces written about ONE TRUE SENTENCE, the “new first novel” (sequentially speaking) in the Lassiter series.



An amorous axiom: Paris equals passion.


Great scenery, great food, great wine.



And those words. There’s a reason they call French a “Romance Language.”



Vive la différence: Each novel in my series centered around crime novelist and globetrotting screenwriter Hector Lassiter has endeavored to be markedly different from the one that precedes it and from the installment that follows.

Despite the various personal creative challenges I set for myself as its author, there is one element that has remained consistent throughout the Lassiter series.

Hector is, from book to book, confronted by formidable women who leave sometimes dark but always lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Simply put, women run this man’s life.

After entangling Hector with three lovers ranging the spectrum from light to very dark, it seemed appropriate in the middle range of Hector’s saga to introduce the woman who truly made Hector into Hector. The time seemed ripe, in essence, to reveal Hector’s first great love.

My central aim in One True Sentence was to depict the romantic figure in Hector’s storied life. I aimed to portray the woman who most profoundly shaped Hector Lassiter as a lover, as writer and as the shades-of-gray heroic figure readers had come to know in the previous three novels.

Having early established Hector as “The Last Man Standing of the Lost Generation” and as a friend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, it was also high time to fully explore a heady period in Hector’s life alluded to—and in the previous novel, Print the Legend, briefly depicted—Hector’s apprenticeship as an aspiring literary writer in the City of Lights, circa 1924.

OTS is number four in series of eight literary thrillers, this one set during one week in February, 1924, in Paris.

In the novel, we see a 24-year-old Hector Lassiter, and his friend, Ernest Hemingway—both not yet known as the authors they will become—living and moving along the Left Bank of the Seine, primarily in the area known as Montparnasse. That’s where all those great writers of the 1920s more or less were based. The photographers, the painters...those wicked surrealists that inform the second Lassiter novel, Toros & Torsos, which also briefly touches base in Paris.

It’s where the famous cafés in which they wrote, drank and talked are centered—La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole and Hemingway’s own favored café, a bit of walk from those other four, La Closerie des Lilas.

Hector went to 1920s Paris dreaming of becoming a literary writer. He emerged a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter compelled to apologize for his work to his literary friends who people my novels: Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams…Gertrude Stein.

One True Sentence is the novel in which Stein and Hemingway cast their longest shadows. OTS is a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s Paris memoir A Moveable Feast as a historical thriller.

The murders of literary magazine publishers plague the Left Bank; Stein gathers the city’s foremost mystery writers in an effort to identify and catch the killer.

Stein, the Modernist grand dame of 1920s Paris—the one who coined the phrase “Lost Generation” and an avant-garde experimenter in prose whose writings remain opaque or even unreadable to even the most patient of readers—was, in fact, an avid fan of mystery fiction. Stein affectionately dubbed favorite crime fiction authors her “mystifiers.” She contended the mystery novel was “the only really modern novel form.” In terms of the literary circles Stein trucked in, her guilty pleasure reads were…unconventional.

So very Modern: in France, in the Twenties for some American expatriates, it seemed only degrees of conventionality were sufficiently unconventional.

In the erotically and artistically charged milieu of 1920s Paris, Hector meets the enticing and mysterious mystery writer Brinke Devlin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed lusty enigma who rocks Hector’s world not just in this novel, but across the balance of his life.

Brinke, a kind of blending of the silent screen siren Louise Brooks and the mystery novelist Craig Rice, is a few years older and ages wiser than Hector. In her own intrepid way, Brinke has already charted the course Hector will follow as an author and screenwriter.


And there are other women in OTS who equally drive the narrative and young Hector’s life—from the formidable and imperious Stein, to a British mystery writer specializing in “locked room mysteries,” and a passionate young poetess with her own dangerous secrets and amorous designs on Hector.

Always, as a swooning backdrop to the novel, there is Paris.

I fell in love with Hemingway’s version of Paris as a young man upon a first reading of A Moveable Feast. In my naïve early 20s, I nursed this notion of running off to the City of Lights and living Hemingway’s memoir. Never mind the fact Hemingway had an exchange rate in his favor that has never again been equaled in history. Never mind the fact I then spoke little more French than ala mode.

A few weeks after the novel was released in the States, I was walking the streets Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway walked in Paris. In a kind of post-modern turn, I found myself using my own novel as a sort of guidebook for morning and evening tours of the Latin Quarter and Left Bank between interviews my French publisher had scheduled for me in the City of Light.

If I turned left out my hotel door and walked to the corner, I was just yards from the Rotonde, the Select and the Coupole—all those cafés Hector and Hem would sit inside during the winter, or on the terrace if it was warmer, watching the street traffic.

If I turned right out my hotel door, in a very few yards, the street terminated at rue Notre Dame des Champs. That’s the street that Hemingway lived on in 1924, shortly after returning to France after a brief and disastrous return to journalism in Toronto, awaiting the birth of his first son. It’s the street where Ezra Pound maintained (a seldom used) studio.

Turning left onto the rue Notre Dame des Champs takes one to La Rue Vavin—the street upon which Hector lived in Paris, near the Jardins de Luxembourg.
Me, outside Hem's first
Paris apartment.


A short walk from the other side of the gardens one finds 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where Hem and first wife Hadley lived for many of Hem’s formative writing years in Paris. It was from that location he would leave on European assignments as a correspondent for newspapers back in Canada and the States.

It’s a long time since the 1920s’ Paris that Hem and Hector would have known. A hell of a lot of water has coursed under all those picturesque bridges that join the banks of Paris.

Yet the city, they claim, is ageless in her way. She remains the place that unfailingly evokes Romance with a capital “R.”

An old line has it that Paris, like an enticing woman, “Will kiss you, or kill you but never bore you.”

As an older Hem wrote of Paris in a magazine article long after he’d left her, “She is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now…she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.”

Click here for earlier posts on my own Paris literary experiences touched on above: PART 1, PART II

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