Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Ultimate Whodunnit?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  We have rock stars here today! These are the authors who have the incredible honor of being nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel.  An absolute once-in-a-lifetime moment!

Massive congratulations to all of you. And a standing ovation.

Now: here’s a question for you, In each of your award-nominated books, you have created a murder mystery—and then solved it. But how about in real life?

What's your favorite unsolved real-life mystery?

Marla Cooper
  author of Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur Books)

One of my favorite mysteries involves greed, sex, false identities — and evil twins. There’s this guy, Jordan Gann, who meets a woman in a bar. He claims to be a pediatric oncologist who had just sold the rights to a drug patent, and he does the whole, “Drinks are on me!” thing. But then, oops, he doesn’t seem to have his credit card. So the woman and her friends cover the bill, Jordan promises he’ll pay them back, and he vanishes. Oh, but not before getting the woman pregnant. (Ooops!)   

Jordan continues to scam women all around the country, using a string of fake identities to avoid being caught. Until one day he goes into a bar, talks to the bartender about throwing a party there, and writes down his information … with a completely different name from the one he’d introduced himself with. The bartender, of course, is suspicious. He googles the man and finds a website warning people about Jordan, his cons, and his many aliases. (Giancarlo Dinatale! Simone Trezeguet! Dr. John Marino!) The bartender calls the police, and they swoop in and arrest Gann — who claims he’s innocent, and it was all the work of ... his twin brother Simon. Oh, yeah: the person who put up the website? You guessed it: the mother of Jordan’s child. Or possibly Simon’s. With twins, it’s hard to be sure.

Alexia Gordon
    author of Murder in G Major (Henery Press)
I’m an unsolved mystery fan. Almost all the podcasts on my Stitcher playlist deal with unsolved mysteries, both “Cold Case Files” and “Unsolved Mysteries” are saved in my Sling TV favorites, and “American Greed: The Fugitives” is on my Hulu watchlist. My favorite unsolved mystery--the one that intrigues me the most--is the case of the Edgecombe County serial killer.

Between 2003 and 2009, ten African-American women disappeared from the Rocky Mount, NC area known as the Neighborhood. Eight of their bodies were found, all in remote areas, several near Seven Bridges Road. Besides race, the women had things in common--they all struggled with drugs, prostitution, and poverty and they all came, literally, from the wrong side of the tracks--the Neighborhood sits on the Edgecombe County side of the railroad tracks running through Rocky Mount. 

Despite the similarities in the victims and the places where their bodies were dumped, Rocky Mount officials waited until 2009 to declare the murders and disappearances the work of a serial killer. Later that year a man was arrested for one of the murders. He was tried and convicted of that one murder in 2011. He was “credited” with “up to” seven of the other killings but was never charged with any of them. Many in Rocky Mount believe he was a scapegoat--a convenient place to lay the blame to make the story go away.

This case gets to me because of the relative lack of coverage it receives. Serial killers are usually big news. I Googled “Jack the Ripper” and got almost 9.5 million hits. “John Wayne Gacy” got more than half a million. “Edgecombe County serial killer” generated a mere 3,280. GQ did a piece on the case in 2010, an archived 2015 sub-Reddit generated a few posts, and a 2016 Rocky Mount newspaper article covered one family’s on-going search for their still-missing loved one. Wikipedia has an article that’s little more than a stub. But that’s about it. The deaths and disappearances of poor, broken, black women don’t seem to generate much notice.

Cynthia Kuhn
   author of The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery               Press)

Margaret Atwood’s postmodern mystery Alias Grace is based on the actual mid-19th century double murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Ontario, Canada. Two servants were accused—Grace Marks (who was jailed) and James Montgomery (who was hanged)—but truth of the matter may not be as tidy as it appears. The novel focuses primarily on conversations between Grace, who claims to have amnesia about what happened on the day of the murders, and Dr. Simon Jordan, who attempts to clarify events using newfangled theories of the mind. The “answer” suggested by this beautifully written novel is an intricate puzzle involving storytelling, spiritualism, and class/gender dynamics—and it’s an incredibly interesting journey.

Nadine Nettmann
           author of Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)
The mystery that immediately comes to mind is the death of Ned Doheny and his assistant, Hugh Plunket, at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Although it was deemed a murder-suicide, rumors and possible cover-ups continue to cloud what really happened that February night in 1929 and who actually killed who and then committed suicide.

 There are disagreements in the details including conflicting evidence, misstatements from the doctor who first arrived on the scene, and the fact that the family moved Ned’s body before calling police.

The story goes even deeper including Ned and Hugh’s involvement in the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal which was still going on at the time. The mystery has fascinated me for years and I’ve enjoyed touring the mansion on several occasions. However, and I’m relieved to share this, the floor is not stained with blood as it was rumored to be.

Renee Patrick (Rosemarie and Vince Keenan)
             author of Design for Dying (Forge)
When we told people we were writing a mystery featuring costume designer Edith Head, it surprised us how often they asked if she would investigate the infamous Black Dahlia case. We’re not sure why they thought we would rush into Hollywood’s most gruesome unsolved murder, especially when a far more intriguing mystery lies closer to Edith’s Paramount Pictures home: the 1922 shooting of director William Desmond Taylor. 

The case, recently covered in meticulous detail in Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann, features venal valets, smitten starlets and an irate stage mother. The perfect cold-case cast. On a recent research trip to Paramount’s costume archive, we were shown a tuxedo owned by Mr. Taylor himself. It bore no stray blonde hairs or overlooked bullet holes, though. Believe us, we looked.

HANK: Wow. SO many great real-life stories.  According to the jury, the Caylee Anthony case is still unsolved, and according to the criminal jury, so is the case of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Hmm.  So Reds and readers: what unsolved crime are you most fascinated with?

And on lucky commenter—to be named on Sunday!—will win a copy of the best-first Agatha winner’s book! 
But hey: congratulations to all!

And the nominees are: 

Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty nominee for Best First Mystery and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and comes out April 4. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, from advertising copy to travel guidebooks to the occasional haiku, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her series. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. Learn more at www.marla-cooper.com.

Alexia Gordon has been a writer since childhood. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU's Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiers July 2017. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas, she listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at
www.missdemeanors.com. AlexiaGordon.net
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent and The Art of Vanishing. She is professor of English at MSU Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from France to Chile to South Africa, but chose Napa Valley as the setting for her debut novel, Decanting a Murder. The next book in the Sommelier Mystery Series, Uncorking a Lie, releases in May 2017. Chapters are paired with wine recommendations. NadineNettmann.com

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Can YOU Fold A Fitted Sheet?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I did something the other day that made me laugh. I recommended a detergent. I never thought I'd see the day when I got excited about laundry. 

Laundry has fallen to me in our family. For a while I waited until it was absolutely an emergency, then did like five million loads. (Remember, there's only Jonathan and me. But the laundry piles up like crazy.)

Now I am in the do-it-once-a-week mode, which is only three loads. Whites, colors, and the other stuff that I don't know what is.

At one point in my life, I had a person who did the laundry.  It was heaven. I loved her. She ironed the sheets. She ironed my white t-shirts.

You'd think it wouldn't make a difference, but wow. It does. And then--
She moved to Florida.

When we were in Italy, I bought gorgeous gorgeous towels at Frette. I had them shipped home, then I washed them. They shrank into wizened twisty out of shape un-towel-like things. I called the Frette store in Boston, and explained my distress and dilemma.

Oh, the salesclerk told me. You have to IRON Frette towels.

Yeah. Like I'm gonna do that.

But I do love folding laundry, it's so soothing and so rewarding. You start out with a random basket of stuff, and then up with nice folded organized nice-smelling clothing. A big sense of accomplishment. Especially when I can fold a fitted sheet so it's not all puffy and weird. Which is--sometimes.

(There's a video about sheet-folding secrets, which I'll try to find.)

How do you all feel about laundry?   

HALLIE EPHRON: What I feel about laundry is probably unprintable. I haven't got the patience to fold, though I do love the results.

Fortunately early on I had the good fortune to turn my husband's underwear pink. Then a black crayon found its way into the dryer and, well, another mess. So he does all the laundry except for mine which he lets me turn any color I like.

Iron towels? You gotta be kidding.

INGRID THOFT: I don’t have strong feelings about laundry, but my husband does, which is why I’m the laundress of the house.  He doesn’t mind getting it in and out of the machine, but folding it is a skill he claims he can’t master.  This, from a software engineer, but he gets a pass because he does plenty of other things around the house.

 When I do laundry, I always think about my mom, sisters, and friends who do laundry for a household of more than two people.  How do they have time for all the other chores of life?  I feel like I spend too much time doing our everyday laundry, which is then doubled by our workout clothes.  I can’t imagine keeping multiple people in clean clothes.

As for ironing, my mom visited a couple of years ago and asked to use my iron.  When she was done, she said, “You haven’t ironed since you moved here?” I scoffed.  Of course, I’ve ironed.  “And you resealed the iron in the box with shrink wrap?” she wondered.  Oh, that.  Maybe I haven’t ironed in a while!

JENN MCKINLAY: Laundry has caused a weird division of labor in our house. When I was home and the hooligans were half-sized, I did ALL the laundry, most of the cleaning and cooking. Then when the writing took off even though I was home, I simply didn't have time to maintain it all so now all the household chores are shared. As for the laundry, Hub does our clothes, the Hooligans do their own clothes, and I do the odds and ends (sheets and towels). I don't iron them. I sort of wish I did iron them because I actually enjoy ironing - don't judge me! - and I bet the sheets and towels would be amazing with a good steamed press. Alas, no time.

HANK: I love it, too. I just don't do it anymore.

JENN: I do sneak into the Hooligans' rooms and refold their laundry because they haven't quite mastered the folding yet and wrinkly clothes bug me. Shh, don't tell!

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm the laundress in our house too. It is a satisfying job, at least temporarily, until things get dirty again! Last fall I became disgusted with our yellowing whites, and Googled how to fix that without using chemicals. There was a complex recipe involving baking soda, Borax, and white vinegar (maybe some other things too.) I tried several loads and different recipes, but nothing worked. I think I'm going off to buy that stuff Hank suggested, chemicals be damned! Unless someone has the secret of those whiter whites??

PS: ironing piles up in our house until we absolutely have nothing to wear. Towels and sheets? Not in this lifetime!

RHYS BOWEN: A while ago I was doing a radio interview and the interviewer said," You seem to be a woman of many talents. What don't you do well?"  And I said, "Ironing."
My mother ironed sheets. She ironed my father's underpants.

And me, I only iron when absolutely necessary, as in twice a year. When John and I were engaged, in the first flush of love I offered to wash and iron his white uniform shirts (Qantas)
I returned them to him and he said,"The laundry does them better."
AND I have never ironed a shirt since!

But I don't mind the laundry these days. We have a super high tech washing machine that gets clothes wonderfully clean and uses little water. Only downside...it is so deep that I almost stand on my head and risk falling in to rescue that last sock.

And bedclothes? They come out of the dryer and straight back on the bed.  I can never understand the English insistence on drying everything on a clothes line in the fresh airs on it winds up stiff and rough. Drying with an English towel. Is like running an emery board over the body!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My thoughts about folding laundry are surely as unprintable as Hallie's. Laundry is the bane of my existence! And there are only two of us! But I cannot keep up with it. Half the time the clean laundry is in a huge unfolded pile on the chair next to our dresser. I cannot fold anything to save my life, especially sheets. Rick is much better at it, if I can just get him to do it. He also irons much better than I do, from years of being a bachelor and having to iron his own work shirts. The funny thing is I actually like ironing. It's very relaxing. Maybe today I'll get to all those piled up pillow shams and tea towels that need a little pressing....

In my fantasy life, I would have ironed sheets. But I've never heard of ironing bath towels. I obviously do not move in the right circles!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I do the laundry for four, with help from the Smithie (usually) and Youngest (occasionally.) We have an electrical outlet issue where the dryer would hook up, so I line dry everything. I have an extendable line that spools out across the timber crossbeams in my thirty-foot-long family room, two lines outside for summer time, and an old-fashioned "clothes horse" that often goes in front of one of the wood stoves. Sometimes I dream about just chucking things into the dryer, but I do get to feel unsufferably smug about being so green.

With the four of us, plus towels, tablecloths, sheets and napkins, I normally do a load a day five or six days a week. Ironing? Usually at the last minute and only if it's something that can't be hidden beneath a jacket. I've been known to tell the girls, "Those wrinkles will fall right out from the heat of your body." We'll often wait until there are two or three baskets and then one of the girls and I will fold them while watching something on Netflix. That, to my mind, is the great thing about laundry-related chores: it's so easy to do them while listening to an audiobook or podcast or while watching TV.

HANK: How about you, Reds readers? Any laundry secrets? Do tell!  Do you care about having the whitest whites?  Do you just throw everything in together? Are you a hot-hot or a cold-cold?  Do you iron your sheets?  Can you fold a fitted sheet so it is not a puffy disaster? Tell all!

(photo credits: Inge Neilse, Katarzina Bialewicz, rotten cards, kzenon)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

View from an airplane window...

HALLIE EPHRON: For all the negatives about air travel, the one enduring virtue is the view out the plane window.

For an unobstructed view, I try to pick a seat behind the wing, as far back as possible without being too close to the bathroom.  And then, willing the absence of cloud cover,  I can Zen out for hours at a time watching the landscape and sky.

The perfect flight leaves Boston at 5 PM and heads west: buckle up for for a three-hour sunset. Sometimes I remember to take a picture. 

So for your Sunday moment of Zen, here are a few of my favorites. I'll bet you can tell which one was taken flying near the Grand Canyon and which was over the Caribbean Turks and Caicos 

Today's question: What makes you pull our your camera and make a memory?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Food that's too smart to eat

photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons
photo by H. Zell via Wikimedia Commons

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I read in the Huffington Post that Gwyneth Paltrow won’t eat octopus because they’re so smart. (This is what I do instead of writing my next book.)
Octopus are too smart to be food. They have more neurons in their brains than we do. I had to stop eating them because I was so freaked out by it.” One famously escaped from its tank at the New Zealand Aquarium, slithered down a drain pipe, and returned to the ocean.

Sound flaky? Not to me. There are several foods I won’t eat because they’re too smart. Octopus. Dolphin. Guinea pig. Whale.

So why is it okay to eat dumb food but not smart food?
This is a question I prefer not to ask myself.

Other foods I won’t eat for other reasons: shrimp that isn’t wild caught (they’re destroying mangroves that protect the coastline in order to farm at the little creatures and harvesting them with slave labor in Southeast Asia.) Swordfish more than a few times a year (mercury). Eggs from chickens raised in those awful cages.

What’s on your I WON’T EAT IT list, and isn’t it nice to be well-off enough to be making these kinds of choices?

Well, I won't eat octopus because I don't like it. Calamari is too rubbery for me. I wouldn't eat anything that's endangered, and yes, there is something about dolphins that
would squick me if someone put a plate in front of me.
by Fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons

In the summertime, we get fabulously free range eggs from my friends - I can literally see their chickens free-ranging around the dooryard whenever I visit. I admit, I've been too cheap to PAY for the good, cruelty-free eggs, but you're making me re-think that, Hallie. Now the Sailor is being fed by Uncle Sam and we're eating a dozen eggs every two weeks instead of two dozen eggs per week, I could afford the more humane (and tastier) product.

Food I was really grateful to find out WASN'T endangered? Conch. I fell in love with it the first time we visited the Bahamas, and I almost didn't eat it in Key West until someone told me, no, it's okay. There are still evidently plenty of Conch in the sea.

RHYS BOWEN: We had this discussion on Easter Sunday when I always serve leg of lamb. Now neither granddaughter will eat lamb because it's... well, it's a little lamb, isn't it?

Daughter Jane and I agreed that we are coming to feel the same way about eating meat. Cows are intelligent, so are pigs. Actually we don't eat much red meat any more but I do try to make an effort to buy grass fed, humanely raised beef. And chicken. And cage free eggs.

The trouble with going vegetarian is that it's hard to get enough B vitamins and legumes don't agree with my stomach. I love fish luckily. Even calamari and I cook calamari steaks so they cut like butter, Julia. Breaded, about a minute on each side.

Photo by Sandos at the English language Wikipedia
I haven't eaten veal for many years after I read how it is raised. I don't think I could eat grasshoppers or ants.And definitely not guinea pigs! we had an adorable one once who used to sit on my shoulder while I watched TV. Definitely not dolphin, although the dolphin they serve in the Caribbean is actually dolphin fish and not the mammal.
And I just saw on TV that plants send out distress signals to other plants when they are being eaten. What is left? Fruitarian?

JENN McKINLAY: I don't know, Rhys, I think the bananas would probably have separation anxiety about being ripped apart from their hand, because, little known fact (at least to me), a single
banana is called a finger while a bunch of bananas is called a hand.

Okay, no more bananas for me! Honestly, I tried the vegetarian thing. I lasted two weeks. Hooligan 1 walked by me eating a burger and I ripped it out of his hands and ate it right in front of him. Wisely, he said not a word and slowly backed away.

I do try to eat all organic, cage free, not endangered foods, and I will try things like crickets just because you never know if you have a taste for them. Truly, feeding a family has never felt so complicated. And, yes, Hallie, we are sure lucky to have such first world problems.

INGRID THOFT: Tongue. I won't eat tongue. The idea of another animal's tongue touching my tongue and then swallowing it? It grosses me out!

I have no issues with lamb, veal, or anything else that is cute, nor do I give the alleged intelligence of the entrée any thought.

I agree with Julia on the calamari front; way too chewy for my taste. I'm not thrilled by the idea of bugs, but could probably swallow down a cricket or two. However, I draw the line at things that are still alive. Many moons ago, my parents were in Japan and were served lobster (which they love under normal circumstances,) and it was still squirming on their plates. Needless to say, the activity of the main dish detracted from the flavor!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Too smart. (Well, they weren't smarter than humans, but that's not the point.) There is a weird line that I draw, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Eels, though, those I CAN put my finger on. Pass. Sea bass and other endangered things, I don't eat. And it's either halibut or haddock that's endangered, so I just skip both of them. No veal. I'm very fond of rack of lamb, so, even though it does give me pause...I grill it and enjoy it. Without a mental picture. Ingrid, with you on tongue.

I once interviewed a guy who was the director of the aquarium. And I asked (not for the interview) if he ate sushi. he said yes, absolutely, and he ate fish. His philosophy was that fish are provided by nature, and if we are humane and not wasteful, it's a celebration of how the world works.

The big change though, is duck. I love grilled duck breast, and it used to be one of my faves. Now, though, with Flo and Eddy and their duck friends swimming in our back yard pool, I cannot eat duck. When we see it on a menu, my husband and I exchange horrified looks.

LUCY BURDETTE: Hank, I think that's how the Native American people handle eating animals--to thank them for their sacrifice, etc, etc.

I will not eat veal, and try not to eat pork (because pigs are too
Squid photo © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia
smart), and won't eat squid after seeing them while snorkeling. We found a whole line of them--as we'd approach, they'd back away. We'd back away, and they'd approach. It seemed as if they were curious about us! (Not that I would eat squid anyway, LOL. Just ask Hallie...)

I feel almost as though I should be vegetarian, but I'm not there yet. But I do go the "kind raising" route, definitely no eggs from caged chickens. And yes, we are lucky, lucky, lucky to even have this question on our collective tables!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If vegetables send out distress signals, then fruit must, too, right? So where do you draw the line once you go down that road?

I would like to know that things I eat have been humanely treated. I buy good local dairy milk, and really expensive local cage free eggs, and local grass fed beef. I try not to eat endangered fish, and I support local farmers. I am a little squeamish about veal these days, but it doesn't come up as a menu choice that often--nor does octopus, although I'm happy to eat calamari. (Thanks for reminding me about the squid steaks, Rhys. They are amazingly good if you don't overcook them.)

I know tongue sounds really icky, but I grew up going to a German deli here in Dallas that sold it as one of their cold lunch meats, and I loved it! What do I draw the line at? Brains, maybe. I remember my mom cooking them when I was a kid. Was it with scrambled eggs? Or did they just look like scrambled eggs? Now we're all totally grossed out.

But I can't help but think these are all such first world issues. I'm a lot more concerned about how to feed hungry people.

HALLIE: So what's on your 'Won't Eat It' list and where do you draw the line?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bad Movies We Love

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Were you at Malice when Rosemarie and Vince Keenan accepted their award? They described their manuscript as a mystery featuring Edith Head. Wow. The entire audience swooned. All agreeing it was a fabulous idea, and I can tell you, the wave of “why didn’t I think about that” washed over the entire crowd. Led by me.

Well, that book, DANGEROUS TO KNOW, is an Agatha nominee for Best First now! And hurray. And of course it’s deeply and fabulously rooted in old Hollywood.  So what better for the Keenans (writing as Renee Patrick) to talk about—than movies!

They DO Make ’em Like That Anymore
                  Rosemarie and Vince Keenan

Return with us now to the Second Golden Age of Movie Magazines, the early 1990s—which was twenty-five years ago, and doesn’t that give one pause? Using the standard boy band system of classification, Premiere was the serious one, Entertainment Weekly the cute one, and Movieline the scruffy, pouting troublemaker. Movieline ran blind items, just like Hedda Hopper used to do. And each issue ended with the column that was our shared guilty pleasure: Bad Movies We Love.

BMWL cast its net fairly wide, taking aim at disaster films (the entire Airport series, The Swarm), films that were disasters (Myra Breckinridge), and even Academy Award-worthy fare like The Greatest Show on EarthButterfield 8 and Fatal Attraction. (Also making the failing grade: not one but two movies in which half of our sleuthing duo, costume designer Edith Head, appeared as herself: Lucy Gallant and The Oscar.) The spotlighted titles came from a range of eras and genres, but each possessed some element that captivated—a hypnotic atmosphere, a galvanizing performance. They fascinated despite, and often because of, their flaws.

They were, in short, bad movies we love.

And they’re still making them, though Movieline is no longer around to keep track of them. Permit us to share a pair of favorites, joined in a number of ways. They’re both show business biopics from 2004 with leading men named Kevin that employ the same unusual—some would say baffling—structure. And we watch them over and over.

Vince’s choice is Beyond the Sea, a passion project for Kevin Spacey who co-writes, directs and stars as singer/actor Bobby Darin. 

Funds for the movie were cobbled together from several European sources, which accounts for the staging of the title song on what looks like a blustery afternoon in Bavaria with Spacey in a canary yellow suit crooning to Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, so cold you can see her breath. Spacey is several years too old for the role—a fact the movie clumsily acknowledges—and hits a few clams when he recreates Darin’s singing. But his enthusiasm for a bygone era of entertainment when the nightclub was king lends this cracked pinwheel of a movie an undeniable verve.

Rosemarie, meanwhile, harbors a soft spot for 
De-Lovely, which chronicles the life of Cole Porter. Most of the maestro’s songs are sung by what K-Tel used to call ‘contemporary artists’ with varying degrees of success. Robbie Williams tosses off the title song with such élan it’s mystifying he never became a bigger star in America, while the less said about Sheryl Crow’s “Begin the Beguine” the better. 

The more traditional musical numbers are uniformly dreadful—Louis B. Mayer singing “Be A Clown”?—but the movie has a refreshing openness to using the tunes in different ways. Anchoring it all is Kevin Kline’s performance as Porter. He’s wholly believable as a man who wears his genius lightly. His talent brings him joy, and it brings him joy to know it brings others joy. Kline may find himself in the middle of cacophonous chaos, but the twinkle in his eye cannot be faked.


Both movies use the same framing device, taking place in the afterlife with the protagonists telling their own stories in formats they understand: Darin’s as a movie, Porter’s a Broadway musical. And it’s this risky metaphorical gambit—life as a show, and the show as life—that accounts for the films’ strange hold over us. Darin, knowing that illness would eventually claim him early, develops a hunger for performing that sustains him—and is matched by Spacey’s own zeal for the spotlight. And De-Lovely’s ending, with every figure from Porter’s life appearing onstage to serenade him to the Pearly Gates with a rendition of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” never fails to reduce Rosemarie to tears. Hokey? Absolutely. But it also succeeds in dramatizing the totality of a person’s existence, all the missed chances and found love, in a single rousing sequence.

 There was a third show business biopic in 2004. Ray was a critical and commercial hit, earning a Best Picture Academy Award nomination and a deserved Oscar for Jamie Foxx’s turn as Ray Charles. We enjoyed the movie, but we never revisited it. Maybe it’s not bad enough.

Or perhaps it needed a Kevin.

HANK:  So Reds, what bad movies do you love? (I loved De-Lovely.) And um, French Kiss. And Speed. And best/worst of all, Point Break.  

(Yesterday's winner of an advance readers copy of You'll Never Know, Dear is Finta! Send me your mailing address: hallie "at" hallieephron "dot" com.)

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington. Learn more at reneepatrickbooks.com

Dangerous to Know

Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.