In this stylish homage to the detective novels of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a press agent stumbles across a starlet’s dead body and into the seamy world of scheming players and morally bankrupt movie moguls.
An aging actress whose star has fallen, a thuggish bodyguard, a Holy Rolling studio head, an actor whose sexuality is in flux—these people inhabit the world of beleaguered publicist Joe Bernardi. Like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Joe operates in a 1940s Los Angeles full of femmes fatales, hucksters, and shady movers and shakers. But he’s no hard-drinking tough guy, just a man desperate to clear his name—the cops think he killed a dead actress—while trying to find satisfaction in his job at second-rate Continental Studios. He also wouldn’t mind reuniting with his ex-wife, Lydia, whose house he watches in the wee hours. Joe’s struggling to regain his life after the war, and his soft heart and fledgling courage stand out against the old-fashioned whodunit plot in which there’s no shortage of suspects, including Mafia men, all with convincing motives for murder. Adding depth and color are descriptions of LA that are at once nostalgic and believable. Observations from Joe’s viewpoint slyly echo the era and the genre: “the job suits her like a size 2 silk slip,” and “he can squeeze a penny hard enough to make Lincoln cry.” That’s what makes the story snap: the familiar yet original characters and their sparkling dialogue. Author Fischer spent many years as a Hollywood scriptwriter, and his talent for authentic voice and tight repartee shines in this first installment of the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series. The background is steeped in movie lore, with names and events of the time—Farley Granger, Gail Russell and the Black Dahlia murder case—cropping up to set the tale against real Hollywood history. Layered with complex relationships that are rarely what they seem, the tightly drawn plot carefully unveils its mysteries; even as one murder is solved, more twists pop up to ensure revelations right up to the satisfying ending.
An enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit from opening act to final curtain.
An award-winning television writer and producer reflects on his prolific career.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, many of the biggest hits on network television were mystery programs. Long-running shows such as Columbo and Murder, She Wrote commanded large audiences week after week, and even short-lived shows such as the 1975 series Ellery Queen had devoted cult followings. In this autobiography, mystery novelist Fischer (Pray For Us Sinners, 2013, etc.) recounts his time as a writer and producer for these and other programs and discusses the many people he met along the way. The author focuses primarily on his career in Hollywood, starting with his early success as the writer of a 1971 TV movie of the week called The Last Child and ending with his retirement shortly after a long tenure as a TV writer and producer. The narrative flows briskly as Fischer tells of writing episodes of famous programs such as Marcus Welby, M.D. and winning an Edgar Award and two Golden Globes for Murder, She Wrote. The author also discusses his work on other promising but less-successful shows; the chapters dealing with The Eddie Capra Mysteries from 1978 and the 1987 series The Law and Harry McGraw (starring Jerry Orbach) offer insights into how programs’ fates can be guided by both ratings and network politics. Overall, Fischer provides an engaging glimpse into the interpersonal relationships that enriched his life and career; for example, the camaraderie Fischer shared with TV stars Angela Lansbury and Peter Falk developed into long-standing friendships. Fischer further pays homage to his love of film and television by including a trivia question at the end of each chapter.
A warm, affectionate autobiography that will likely appeal to TV history buffs.
We Don't Need No Stinking Badges
"The Hollywood Murder Mysteries" Book Two
by Peter S. Fischer
A thrilling mystery packed with Hollywood glamour, intrigue and murder, set in 1948 Mexico.
When Hollywood public relations flack Joe Bernardi is sent to the troubled Tampico, Mexico, set of an overhyped, overbudget film called The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he expects to deal with star Humphrey Bogart’s boozing and womanizing. But when Bogie turns out to be behaving, Joe has little spin-doctoring to do—until one of the movies’ minor stars turns up dead. A man named Jimbo Ochoa is arrested, but Joe doubts the man’s guilt. He does as his P.R. job demands, painting the situation in the best light possible and trying to keep the studio heads from hearing the gory details. However, as he dives deeper into investigation, he uncovers a conspiracy that seems to reach the upper echelons of the Mexican police force. Can Joe solve the murder before the movie wraps and, more importantly, before he’s targeted himself? Fischer (Jezebel in Blue Satin, 2011, etc.) is a former Hollywood screenwriter; his TV credits include Murder, She Wrote and Columbo, and his awards include a 1985 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. It shows—the novel’s dialogue is pithy and tight, and its characters well fleshed out. Although the story features many famous faces (Bogart, director John Huston, actor Walter Huston and novelist B. Traven, to name a few), the plot smartly focuses on those behind the scenes. The big names aren’t used as gimmicks—they’re merely planets for the story to rotate around, flickering in and out of focus. Joe is the star of the show, and this fictional tale in a real-life setting (the actual set of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was also fraught with problems) works well in Fischer’s sure hands. The novel feels like an hour-long drama, and readers will likely become invested in finding out whodunit. This is the second book in the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series, so, fortunately, it may not be the last we see of Joe.
A smart, clever Mexican mystery.
THE UNKINDNESS OF STRANGERS
The Hollywood Murder Mysteries, Book Five
by Peter S. Fischer
In the latest installment of Fischer’s (Pray for Us Sinners, 2013, etc.) Hollywood Murder Mysteries series, public relations man Joe Bernardi investigates a murder in Malibu.
Bernardi is back, and this time he’s working his public relations magic on the 1951 set of director Elia Kazan’s feature film A Streetcar Named Desire. While dealing with the House Un-American Activities Committee’s pressure on Kazan, Bernardi becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding the murder of the country’s No. 1 hatemongering journalist, Bryce Tremayne. The list of suspects is long: Tremayne beat his long-suffering wife, mistreated all his employees and made enemies, including Kazan, with his vicious columns. Bernardi must quell rumors that Kazan had something to do with the murder, while also attending to the combustible atmosphere on the Streetcar set. In the process, he takes a trip to Tijuana, visits a gay bar and tangles with crooked police officers. But will Bernardi get to the bottom of the mystery before he’s targeted himself? Former Columbo and Murder, She Wrote screenwriter Fischer, winner of a 1985 Edgar Award, knows how to pace a thriller, and he treats the gumshoe genre with equal amounts of fun and seriousness. He combines Bernardi’s know-it-all humor with bursts of heart-pounding, page-turning suspense that will likely leave the reader wanting more. He doesn’t focus solely on the famous faces of Streetcar, and that’s a good thing. It gives Bernardi the space he deserves to shine: It’s his world, and they all just live in it. The dialogue is believable throughout and the characters are thankfully three-dimensional; even in the middle of a murder investigation, the smart, sensitive Bernardi still finds time to pine for his longtime love, Bunny, and mourn the slow-burning demise of their relationship. Fischer knows his art, and this fine installment is just as enjoyable as the works before it.
An engaging old-Hollywood whodunit.
Pray for us Sinners
"The Hollywood Murder Mysteries" Book Seven
by Peter S. Fischer
A thrilling Hollywood whodunit set in Canada.
Hollywood public-relations superstar Joe Bernardi is back. He’s working in Quebec City on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter, trying to do damage control for the ever-volatile relationship between Clift and Hitchcock. The director thinks actors should be seen and not heard (unless filming a scene), and Clift wants to be more than a puppet. In the midst of these problems, Joe starts a small relationship with Jeanne d’Arcy, a member of the Quebec Province Film Commission. When Jeanne’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Bruckner, a prominent attorney involved in a high-profile mob case, is found murdered in his apartment, Jeanne is the key suspect, having been seen arguing with Daniel just hours before his death. Joe assures the police of Jeanne’s innocence and soon begins his own investigation, with many potential murderers surrounding him. Could it have been Daniel’s wife? Her lover? Daniel’s business partner? Or was this a mob hit? Each discovery leads Joe closer to danger. Fischer’s (Jezebel in Blue Satin, 2011, etc.) credits as a Hollywood screenwriter include Murder, She Wrote; Columbo; and a 1985 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, so it’s no surprise that he knows how to hook readers. Though there are a handful of famous faces in the novel, they’re not the key players. Unlike on the movie sets Joe frequents, he’s the star of this show, and fans of this series will thoroughly enjoy his step back into the spotlight. The work itself is well-paced, with exceptional, believable dialogue and development. This is no stop/start mystery: Everything flows well, and the characters are complex. Fischer also did a splendid job of researching his subject. Though it’s no secret that Clift was a method actor and that he and Hitchcock did not get along, Clift makes reference to “Elizabeth” coming to visit him, a nod to Elizabeth Taylor, one of the actor’s closest friends. These little tidbits of information add fullness and reality to the Hollywood portion of the tale. Joe’s latest turn is not only for fans of the series, but for anyone who loves a good whodunit.
An addicting thriller with murder, mystery and Hitchcock.
ME AND MURDER, SHE WROTE