Thursday, 26 June 2014

Why I Wrote ...

This week, in place of our usual interview, I am delighted to introduce a guest post from an award winning author, Marshall Stein. Marshall shares with us his reasons for writing his acclaimed crime novel, Rage Begets Murder.

One of the great pleasures of many classic crime thrillers is the portrayal of the underbelly of a society. Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep exploring the dark reality in the old money Sternwood family. John LeCarre revealing the callous sacrifice of innocents in the The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Martin Cruz Smith etching in acid the corruption of modern Russia in Gorky Park.

Rage Begets Murder takes place in Philadelphia during the birth of the American Bandstand era. I was in high school during the 1950s in a prosperous suburb of Philadelphia. It was a white Republican world. When I registered to vote, it was a very short line for Democrats, and my registration card was pink. There were few people of color in my high school. The first time I remembered being in a social setting where whites and blacks were equally visible was a jazz bar where Miles Davis performed that night.

Bandstand came to television during this time. It was riveting: the music, the dancing. Teenagers could not wait to get home and turn it on. Their contemporaries who danced on the show were so wholesome in appearance: white, usually Italian or Irish American, mostly from Catholic parochial schools. The only people of color on the show were the singers, e.g. Little Richard Penniman, Fats Domino, etc.

The man who launched Bandstand, Bob Horn, was accused by a dancer on the show of having a sexual relationship with her from the time she was 13 until she was 15. At the time Horn was in his 40s, married, with children. It was a huge scandal in the area known as the Delaware Valley: portions of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. I thought this would be a good story for launching a novel.

I have chafed under the myth that everything was perfect in the 1950s: that everyone prospered, that there was little crime, that all races and religions lived in Happy Valley, in short, a world that looked like a Disney cartoon. To the contrary, it was a world of deep racism; a world where people lived in tribes of people like themselves; a world where Ivy League universities set quotas for admitting minorities And a world where violence erupted. This inspired me to write my debut novel in a form I loved, a crime thriller, a genre where dark realities can be explored.

I brought to the book thirty-eight years of trial and appellate experience. Early on, I was an Assistant United States Attorney and then the Chief Staff Attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island]. In government service and in private practice I met people from all sides of the street. The character of Chumsky in RBM, the businessman/organized crime kingpin, was inspired by a real person, a man who died many years ago. Not surprisingly some of the novel is set in a law firm.

RAGE BEGETS MURDER has been called “an author’s tour-de-force” [Jeremiah Healy, Shamus award winner and Past President of International Association of Crime Writers]. “Rage is a stunning example of psychoanalytic character examination and superb story weaving on the part of a very disciplined writer.” [Heater, a noir zine].

Last December I was one of 44 authors at Mystery Night, a group that included Joseph Finder, William Landay, Linda Barnes, Sarah Smith, Hank Phillipi Ryan and Hallie Ephron. I will be a panelist at NoirCon in Philadelphia the end of October. Though retired from the practice of law, I was among 25 lawyers who were invited for a private reception with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Alito a few weeks ago.

In 2013 RBM was the #1 bestseller for my publisher Post Mortem Press in bookstores, and PMP’s #5 on Amazon in the U.S. It is now available on Amazon UK.

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