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It’s easy to lose hope in this modern world. And then, just like that, the Vatican’s minister of culture tweets Lou Reed (in Latin) and suddenly, there is reason to believe that man may yet get it right.
And the colored girls say, Doo do doo do doo do do doo.
We took the train into Manhattan Wednesday evening for my reading at KGB. KGB is a great little bar, a second-floor walk-up in the East Village dedicated to whiskey and literature (and Soviet memorabilia).
There were eight of us scheduled to read on Wednesday night, all mystery writers, all members of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, a mixture of established and emerging writers, all talented writers with wonderful stories. For me, it was an opportunity to “go public” with my work-in-progress, the black comedy Death and White Diamonds. I finished the first draft of the manuscript less than a month ago and will be dealing for some time with edits, but it seemed the perfect opportunity to read a brief excerpt and get some feedback from mystery readers and writers.
“I should probably tell you that Richie goes away for the week-end with his girlfriend Lorraine. One thing leads to another an now she’s dead. Richie is fairly certain that he didn’t kill his girlfriend, but his memory is a little hazy in spots. The one thing he knows for sure is that when someone finds out that she’s dead, he’s going to be the prime suspect. So he decides to dispose of the body.”
I really like Death and White Diamonds and I was anxious to find out whether an audience of mystery readers and writers would like it. I was gratified to hear laughter from the very first sentence. “Lorraine was still much too large to be used as bait, but the kitchen in the beach house was well-equipped.”
And then I jumped right into a scene where Richie turns his girlfriend into bait for a fishing expedition. “In one end of the sausage maker, I fed Lorraine parts and from the other end the machine extruded ground Lorraine.”
Later, on the boat, Lorraine bait is packed into a chum cannon and “the next thing I knew, little bits of Lorraine were being sprayed out across the water, a graceful arc of ground Lorraine, shimmering in the late-morning sun.”
But there was still far too much Lorraine to dispose of on a fishing excursion. “At this rate, it would take a month of such excursions to say good-bye to Lorraine. I hate long goodbyes.”
And, if that weren’t problem enough, by the end of the excursion, Richie had two more dead bodies to deal with. Richie was philosophical. “My attempt to dispose of Lorraine had not gone according to plan.”
I left KGB late Wednesday night exhausted and gratified and perhaps just a little bit tipsy and in the ensuing twenty-four hours, sales on my other three books all spiked.
And that would be plenty to call it a good week (no, in truth, to call it a great week) but Thursday afternoon, I was back on the road, heading south to the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville NJ. The Noyes is a wonderful little museum bordering the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
I knew that I was taking a chance using four pints of fresh raspberries to make a pot of chili ( a very big pot to be sure, but four pints of raspberries was still an unconventional ingredient). Would people like the chili or would they be off-put by the raspberries?
So in the last forty-eight hours someone called my new manuscript “hilarious” and someone else called my chili “divine.” And I almost forgot. I got an email last night that the new paperback edition of It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder should be available in time for Christmas.
Usually my life is not like this.
If things go according to plan (and we know from Richie’s experience they often don’t) I intend to do absolutely nothing for a couple of days.
I have it from reliable sources that tomorrow night’s reading will feature the chum cannon. Trust me on this, it is appropriately disgusting. I hope to see you tomorrow night at KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, NYC.
Last week, I posted about a mystery conference cruise and a certain ghost ship, adrift at sea.
All those passengers stranded on that cruise ship with no power, no services, limited supplies, nothing to do. If that had actually been the mystery cruise, I told my wife, at least the authors would sell a lot of books. And she responded, if they ran out of toilet paper.
Which got me thinking about the problem with ebooks. Try wiping your ass with a kindle.
And the new marketing slogan for my book? It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder. Now with two-ply pages.
That night, at dinner (it was three years ago, but I remember it is as if were yesterday) a beauty pageant queen, dressed in her sash and crown… I should probably clarify that… She was wearing more than just her sash and crown. It would be oh so wrong, if she were wearing only a sash and crown… So anyway, that night at dinner at the Dean’s house, a beauty pageant queen, a truly delightful young woman, complete with her sash and crown, taught us how to fold our napkin to look like a turkey.
It was a dark and stormy night (I’ve always wanted to write that, but it really was). Anyway, it was a dark and stormy night. I sat for a few minutes in my car, waiting for the rain to let up before dashing through the shrubs and around to the front door of the old house. The guest list, for dinner, might have been drawn up by Agatha Christie herself. The Dean was there, of course. After all, it was her house. And the Dean’s young son. The guest speaker was there with her husband in tow. Also, a hearing-impaired emeritus professor. Ninety year-old twin alumnae. A lawyer from the Attorney General’s office. Several representatives from the alumni association and from the staff. And of course, our beauty queen. She showed us how to fold a towel so that it looked like a monkey. And then she turned her attention to the napkins. Somewhere, upstairs, a dog barked. Rain hit the windows like a spray of bullets. I’d like to tell you that’s when the power went out. But I can’t. Because it didn’t. And this is a mostly true story. Even the dead body parts. Well, not dead “body parts.” Even the parts about the “dead bodies.”
The dinner conversation was gracious and genteel, and notwithstanding the generational changes that were represented by a span of some seventy years, the ladies still shared a certain connection. And then, one of the women leaned across the table and asked, Do you know about the murders?
It was September 16, 1922. A young couple strolled down Easton Avenue, along the border of New Brunswick and Somerset. Even today, as I drive the road, if I look past the strip malls and the housing, the hospital, the Dunkin Donuts, the massage parlors, I can find brief glimpses of the countryside. Eighty-eight years ago, the young couple turned off Easton, down DeRussey Lane, heading toward an abandoned farmhouse when they were stopped short by a gruesome discovery, a man and a woman, each shot in the head.
He was a distinguished looking man, even in death. She, a pretty woman, or would have been were it not for her throat, “a mass of maggots, from ear to ear.” A bloody calling card identified the man as an Episcopal priest, The Reverend Edward W. Hall.
Once the Reverend had been identified, it took no great detective work to identify the woman. It was not the Reverend’s wife. Everyone in the congregation knew the Reverend’s poorly-kept secret, his affair with a married member of the church choir, Mrs. Eleanor Mills.
The initial police investigation focused on three suspects, the Reverend’s wife, Mrs. Frances Hall, who allegedly planned the murder and her two brothers, Henry Hewgill Stevens and Willie Carpender Stevens, who allegedly carried out the crime. But the investigation in 1922 led to no indictments. In response to growing media attention, the Governor ordered a new investigation in 1926. As a result of this new investigation, a fourth suspect, a cousin, Henry de la Bruyere Carpender was added, but never charged. Mrs. Hall and the two Stevens brothers, however, were indicted. The trial which began November 3, 1926 captured the attention of the American public. The media coverage of the trial was extensive. Notable among the court reporters were Damon Runyon and the mystery novelist, Mary Roberts Rinehart.
After a contentious and very public trial, marked by conflicting testimony, missing and compromised evidence, the defendants were found not guilty.
Did Mrs. Hall and her brothers get away with murder? The murders have been the subject of numerous books and movies. But the case has never been solved. Sitting in the Reverend’s dining room that night with the Dean and her guests, the emeritus professor, the 90 year-old twin alumnae and of course, the beauty queen, it was easy to imagine the Reverend, with a gunshot wound just above his right ear and an exit wound at the back of his neck and his mistress, with her multiple gunshot wounds and the string of maggots, like pearls across her throat, trapped somewhere between judgment and justice, locked in an eternal embrace, in the Reverend’s upstairs bedroom.
(Photos retrieved from the Franklin Photo Archive at the Franklin Twp. Library.)