Friday, September 12, 2008

A Reckless Romeo

Ever since I learned years ago that then Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett had played a part in investigating the infamous 1921 Fatty Arbuckle murder scandal, centered around the death of a wannabe-actress named Virginia Rappe in San Francisco, I’ve wondered how long it would take for some bright crime novelist to see in that historical pairing the ingredients for great fiction. Well, leafing through the Winter 2009 book catalogue from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, I see that the wait is finally over. Here’s the nut of a write-up about an April release from Ace Atkins titled Devil’s Garden:
San Francisco, September 1921: Silent-screen comedy star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is throwing a wild party in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel: girls, jazz, bootleg hooch ... and a dead actress named Virginia Rappe. The D.A. says it was Arbuckle who killed her--crushing her under his weight--and brings him up on manslaughter charges. William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers stir up the public and demand a guilty verdict. But what really happened? Why do so many people at the party seem to have stories that conflict? Why is the prosecution hiding witnesses? Why are there body parts missing from the autopsied corpse? Why is Hearst so determined to see Fatty Arbuckle convicted?

In desperation, Arbuckle’s defense team hires a Pinkerton agent to do an investigation of his own and, they hope, discover the truth. The agent’s name is Dashiell Hammett, and he’s the book’s narrator. What he discovers will change American legal history--and his own life--forever.
Combined with the release of Joe Gores’ Maltese Falcon prequel, Spade & Archer, next April could be a fantastic month for fans of Hammett--the man and the writer.

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One other note about future fiction: The hardcover edition of A Quiet Flame, Scottish author Philip Kerr’s extraordinary fifth novel featuring World War II-era German private eye Bernie Gunther, is scheduled to reach U.S. bookstores in March of next year, also from Putnam. Preceding it, by the way, will be the Penguin paperback edition of The One from the Other, the surprise fourth installment of Kerr’s Gunther series and one of January Magazine’s favorite books of 2006. It should go on sale in February.

1 comment:

Iden Pierce Ford said...

I am reading it right now and it is the best mystery novel I have read this year.
I absolutely love it. He weaves the 1930's with the post Nazi Germany era of the 1950's where many of the players fled to the safe haven of Argentina.
Kerr is a master of recreating the feeling of the time and the era. Gunther is just wonderful.
One of the best noir writers is Mr Kerr,