Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mandy and the Dutchess

My friend Ed Gorman and I wrote a story called “Real Life, Real Death” that appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. That story featured a character called Aaron Hall, who worked at a small cable network. Ed and I talked about the possibility of writing a novel together, and not long after we made that sale (one of the most exciting moments of my professional life!) I started making notes for a novel featuring Aaron as the main character. I wrote a lot of stuff and sent it to Ed. Unfortunately he was too busy with other books— he had at least two deadlines around that time— so we couldn’t work on it. I put it aside. Then in mid-2015 I opened the file again and found there was a lot worth salvaging, so I got to work. I completely changed the main character, changed the plot, dropped the competitive eating subplot (although I hope to write a competitive eating mystery novel at some point), and added some new characters, including the Dutchess.

Who are Mandy and the Dutchess?

The short answer is that Mandy and the Dutchess are the greatest comedy mystery team since Doan and Carstairs. Or the Justuses and John J. Malone. Or Nick and Nora Charles. Or Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Or Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. You get the idea.

Back in the early 90s, classic hardboiled crime and mystery novels were coming back into print at a rapid pace, thanks to publishers like Carroll & Graf, Mysterious Press, Black Lizard, IPL, Ballantine, Blue Murder, No Exit, etc. I read them as quickly as I could lay my hands on them, while trolling used bookstores looking for old Avons, Dells, Gold Medals, and so on. Over all the Black Lizard stuff, in particular Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson, and David Goodis, were my favorites. Those books had a more “serious” feel to them.

Of the IPL authors, there were two that I felt were at least at that level, if not above them: Craig Rice and Jonathan Latimer. The first of Ms. Rice’s books I read was her ghostwritten George Sanders mystery novel Crime on my Hands. It’s not quite Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, but it’s very nearly as entertaining. The actor George Sanders finds himself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy on the set of his latest film. The casual pettiness and backstabbing and the venality of the Hollywood characters, combined with the dry voice with which the character Sanders narrates the tale made a huge impact on me. I read all of Ms. Rice’s books I could find, including the screwball mystery series featuring Jake Justus, Helene Brand, and John J. Malone. Beginning with the absurdly improbable but vastly amusing 8 Faces at 3, Ms. Rice mixed humor and murder in a way that felt simultaneously dangerous and comforting.

Craig Rice appeared on the January 28, 1946 edition of TIME magazine.

Jonathan Latimer’s stuff was a bit more sinister. The first of his books I read was Solomon’s Vineyard, which is one of the strangest hardboiled novels ever written. If you can think of it, it’s in there— murder, organized crime, cults (as the narrator Karl Craven says, “It’s got everything but an abortion and a tornado”). From there Jonathan Latimer moved near the top of my list of authors I searched out in the used bookstores, and I read all of his absurdist crime comedy novels featuring detective Bill Crane (described as “UNIQUE AND ALCOHOLIC” by Pocket Books).

Unique and alcoholic!

But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I discovered the work of another great writer who combined hardboiled crime with humor— Norbert Davis. Supposedly one of Davis’s stories, “Red Goose,” inspired Raymond Chandler to write pulp fiction. The stories featuring alcoholic private eye Max Latin were brutal and funny. My favorite works are his Doan and Carstairs books and stories, featuring private eye Doan and his enormous Great Dane Carstairs— stories full of violence and horror, presented with élan.

Doan and Carstairs in one of their most famous adventures.

These three writers form the foundation of inspiration for the Mandy and the Dutchess books. Add in Donald Westlake, Charles Willeford, Ed Gorman, Fredric Brown, Patricia Highsmith, and Margaret Millar and you have some idea of where I’m coming from.

The series is narrated by Mander “Mandy” Manley, a Gen-X marketing and promotions exec who, at the start of the first book, is working at a low-rated cable network. He’s casually liberal/progressive, like just about everyone who works in Hollywood, and he’s appalled that his network’s three top-rated shows all feature right-wing Cajun rednecks (Gator Masters, Redneck Vacay, Redneck Repo). He spends a good deal of his time preventing their right-wing opinions from reaching a wider audience, if only to protect the reputation of his network.


When the rednecks come to Los Angeles for a week of promotional activities, they bring along 22 year-old Eulalia “the Dutchess” Babineaux. She is, like the other rednecks, conservative and Christian. She’s also outspoken, abrasive, and prone to violence. She does her best to try to protect one of the other rednecks, the gator hunter Shawn, from former child star Dreama Almond. Unfortunately, Dreama’s hold on him is too great. When she goes missing, Shawn is arrested.

So their first misadventure is a hunt to discover the truth about Dreama’s disappearance. As they make their way through the seedy but sunny underside of Hollywood, they discover a raft of corruption mitigated by virtue signaling and charitable fundraising and donations.


Their second misadventure begins with the murder of a studio executive. This particular studio is producing an all-female reboot (a “she-boot”) of a beloved 1980s horror comedy. The trailer has instigated a rash of online hate, which might or might not have inspired the murder. Mandy and the Dutchess, now working together for their own freelance marketing and promotions firm, are hired by one of the stars of the original film. He’s being pressured to appear in the reboot, but he doesn’t want to. One damn thing after another happens, and Mandy and the Dutchess have to deal with SJWs, MRAs, online think pieces, and murder.

These novels are, I hope, entertaining as mystery fiction and as a satirical look at the current year.

The books are available now through Amazon! Check out The Misadventure of Dreama and the Rednecks and The Misadventure of the Busted Reboot now! Buy them both! Hurry!

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