"Former Columbo and Murder, She Wrote screenwriter Fischer, winner of a 1985 Edgar Award, knows how to pace a thriller, and he treats the gumshoe genre with equal amounts of fun and seriousness."– Kirkus Reviews
In this 18th entry in Fischer’s (Ashes to Ashes, 2018, etc.) mystery series, a Hollywood novelist/screenwriter runs into danger when his latest project threatens to expose old secrets about President John F. Kennedy’s father.
Joe Bernardi, once a top Hollywood publicist, has shifted careers to write novels and screenplays, but he often finds himself investigating Tinseltown murders and scandals. In 1963, his publisher intriguingly asks him to write a nonfiction account of a 35-year-old murder aboard the yacht Highland Rose. The alleged shooter was Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the president’s dad—and surprisingly, the book proposal is coming from JFK’s inner circle. Apparently, the president’s enemies are preparing their own hatchet job, and his allies want to get ahead of it. The trail’s gone cold since 1929, when the elder Kennedy was a rich but relatively unknown bootlegger. Murder victim Archie Farrell, a second-rate, alcoholic talent agent, was similarly obscure. But some Hollywood bigwigs were on the yacht, too, including Farrell’s wife, the glamorous actress Gladys Cooper; and Gloria Swanson, Kennedy’s mistress. Bernardi tracks down the original newspaper, police, and crew accounts in Monterey Bay, where the yacht was moored, as well as still-living witnesses, including Cooper and Swanson. He also confronts lies, evasions, and beatings, which only spur his resolve—but in the end, the facts may not be the most important thing. Fischer is a former screenwriter and producer for such TV shows as Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, and he knows how to tell a compelling story. The gumshoe-style mystery at the heart of his novel is intriguing in itself, but it gets an extra boost from the Hollywood glamour that surrounds it; for example, readers get to visit the set of the film My Fair Lady, in which Cooper is one of the actors, and Bernardi offers his opinion that casting Audrey Hepburn as the lead is a terrible idea. The story has a sense of pathos, as well, revealing how less-powerful players were affected by the Highland Rose incident, and as Bernardi bemoans the bitterness, anger, and division of 1963, the author holds a mirror up to our own fractious era.
An entertaining, fast-paced mystery.
An award-winning television writer and producer reflects on his prolific career.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, many of the biggest hits on network television were mystery programs. Long-running shows such as Columbo and Murder, She Wrote commanded large audiences week after week, and even short-lived shows such as the 1975 series Ellery Queen had devoted cult followings. In this autobiography, mystery novelist Fischer (Pray For Us Sinners, 2013, etc.) recounts his time as a writer and producer for these and other programs and discusses the many people he met along the way. The author focuses primarily on his career in Hollywood, starting with his early success as the writer of a 1971 TV movie of the week called The Last Child and ending with his retirement shortly after a long tenure as a TV writer and producer. The narrative flows briskly as Fischer tells of writing episodes of famous programs such as Marcus Welby, M.D. and winning an Edgar Award and two Golden Globes for Murder, She Wrote. The author also discusses his work on other promising but less-successful shows; the chapters dealing with The Eddie Capra Mysteries from 1978 and the 1987 series The Law and Harry McGraw (starring Jerry Orbach) offer insights into how programs’ fates can be guided by both ratings and network politics. Overall, Fischer provides an engaging glimpse into the interpersonal relationships that enriched his life and career; for example, the camaraderie Fischer shared with TV stars Angela Lansbury and Peter Falk developed into long-standing friendships. Fischer further pays homage to his love of film and television by including a trivia question at the end of each chapter.
A warm, affectionate autobiography that will likely appeal to TV history buffs.
A thrilling Hollywood whodunit set in Canada.
Hollywood public-relations superstar Joe Bernardi is back. He’s working in Quebec City on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter, trying to do damage control for the ever-volatile relationship between Clift and Hitchcock. The director thinks actors should be seen and not heard (unless filming a scene), and Clift wants to be more than a puppet. In the midst of these problems, Joe starts a small relationship with Jeanne d’Arcy, a member of the Quebec Province Film Commission. When Jeanne’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Bruckner, a prominent attorney involved in a high-profile mob case, is found murdered in his apartment, Jeanne is the key suspect, having been seen arguing with Daniel just hours before his death. Joe assures the police of Jeanne’s innocence and soon begins his own investigation, with many potential murderers surrounding him. Could it have been Daniel’s wife? Her lover? Daniel’s business partner? Or was this a mob hit? Each discovery leads Joe closer to danger. Fischer’s (Jezebel in Blue Satin, 2011, etc.) credits as a Hollywood screenwriter include Murder, She Wrote; Columbo; and a 1985 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, so it’s no surprise that he knows how to hook readers. Though there are a handful of famous faces in the novel, they’re not the key players. Unlike on the movie sets Joe frequents, he’s the star of this show, and fans of this series will thoroughly enjoy his step back into the spotlight. The work itself is well-paced, with exceptional, believable dialogue and development. This is no stop/start mystery: Everything flows well, and the characters are complex. Fischer also did a splendid job of researching his subject. Though it’s no secret that Clift was a method actor and that he and Hitchcock did not get along, Clift makes reference to “Elizabeth” coming to visit him, a nod to Elizabeth Taylor, one of the actor’s closest friends. These little tidbits of information add fullness and reality to the Hollywood portion of the tale. Joe’s latest turn is not only for fans of the series, but for anyone who loves a good whodunit.
An addicting thriller with murder, mystery and Hitchcock.
In the latest installment of Fischer’s (Pray for Us Sinners, 2013, etc.) Hollywood Murder Mysteries series, public relations man Joe Bernardi investigates a murder in Malibu.
Bernardi is back, and this time he’s working his public relations magic on the 1951 set of director Elia Kazan’s feature film A Streetcar Named Desire. While dealing with the House Un-American Activities Committee’s pressure on Kazan, Bernardi becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding the murder of the country’s No. 1 hatemongering journalist, Bryce Tremayne. The list of suspects is long: Tremayne beat his long-suffering wife, mistreated all his employees and made enemies, including Kazan, with his vicious columns. Bernardi must quell rumors that Kazan had something to do with the murder, while also attending to the combustible atmosphere on the Streetcar set. In the process, he takes a trip to Tijuana, visits a gay bar and tangles with crooked police officers. But will Bernardi get to the bottom of the mystery before he’s targeted himself? Former Columbo and Murder, She Wrote screenwriter Fischer, winner of a 1985 Edgar Award, knows how to pace a thriller, and he treats the gumshoe genre with equal amounts of fun and seriousness. He combines Bernardi’s know-it-all humor with bursts of heart-pounding, page-turning suspense that will likely leave the reader wanting more. He doesn’t focus solely on the famous faces of Streetcar, and that’s a good thing. It gives Bernardi the space he deserves to shine: It’s his world, and they all just live in it. The dialogue is believable throughout and the characters are thankfully three-dimensional; even in the middle of a murder investigation, the smart, sensitive Bernardi still finds time to pine for his longtime love, Bunny, and mourn the slow-burning demise of their relationship. Fischer knows his art, and this fine installment is just as enjoyable as the works before it.
An engaging old-Hollywood whodunit.
A stylized, suspenseful Hollywood whodunit set in 1949.
The third installment in Fischer’s (We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges, 2011, etc.) Hollywood Murder Mysteries series finds Warner Bros. publicist Joe Bernardi finally back on his feet after his failed marriage to the alcoholic Lydia and happily living in sin with “oversexed” Bunny Lesher. But after Tyler Banks—the married, all-around cad for whom Lydia left Joe—is found dead with a shot to the head, with Lydia the prime suspect, Joe finds himself pulled back into a complex web of addiction, deceit and adultery. He endeavors to prove her innocence, but true to murder-mystery form, it’s no cut-and-dry case. When it becomes clear that the authorities are more interested in pinning the crime on Lydia than pursuing justice, Joe must team up with a detective sergeant with whom he has a rocky history and Lydia’s new gentleman friend, a bondsman. Joe’s a busy man, though, and he struggles to balance his responsibilities to Bunny and work with his sense of obligation to Lydia, despite her betrayal years earlier. Fischer’s latest is fast and fun, bursting with believable period details and full of colorful characters, though they can—like the villainous Tyler—sometimes feel one-dimensional or, in the case of Bunny Lesher, who’s alternatingly jealous and in heat, slightly sexist. (Politics in the book are, like everything else, a bit old-fashioned, and occasional typographical errors don’t help clear things up.) Occasionally but always unobtrusively, Fischer incorporates elements previously established in the series, like Joe’s back story with the sergeant, so the book works just as well as a stand-alone. Tyler’s long-suffering wife, Amanda, is easily Fischer’s most compelling character—a privileged but dissatisfied wife and daughter who benefits financially and personally from her husband’s death. Like everyone in this Hollywood noir, however, she’s not quite what she seems.
Goes down smooth for murder-mystery fans and Old Hollywood junkies.
A thrilling mystery packed with Hollywood glamour, intrigue and murder, set in 1948 Mexico.
When Hollywood public relations flack Joe Bernardi is sent to the troubled Tampico, Mexico, set of an overhyped, overbudget film called The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he expects to deal with star Humphrey Bogart’s boozing and womanizing. But when Bogie turns out to be behaving, Joe has little spin-doctoring to do—until one of the movies’ minor stars turns up dead. A man named Jimbo Ochoa is arrested, but Joe doubts the man’s guilt. He does as his P.R. job demands, painting the situation in the best light possible and trying to keep the studio heads from hearing the gory details. However, as he dives deeper into investigation, he uncovers a conspiracy that seems to reach the upper echelons of the Mexican police force. Can Joe solve the murder before the movie wraps and, more importantly, before he’s targeted himself? Fischer (Jezebel in Blue Satin, 2011, etc.) is a former Hollywood screenwriter; his TV credits include Murder, She Wrote and Columbo, and his awards include a 1985 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. It shows—the novel’s dialogue is pithy and tight, and its characters well fleshed out. Although the story features many famous faces (Bogart, director John Huston, actor Walter Huston and novelist B. Traven, to name a few), the plot smartly focuses on those behind the scenes. The big names aren’t used as gimmicks—they’re merely planets for the story to rotate around, flickering in and out of focus. Joe is the star of the show, and this fictional tale in a real-life setting (the actual set of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was also fraught with problems) works well in Fischer’s sure hands. The novel feels like an hour-long drama, and readers will likely become invested in finding out whodunit. This is the second book in the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series, so, fortunately, it may not be the last we see of Joe.
A smart, clever Mexican mystery.
In this stylish homage to the detective novels of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a press agent stumbles across a starlet’s dead body and into the seamy world of scheming players and morally bankrupt movie moguls.
An aging actress whose star has fallen, a thuggish bodyguard, a Holy Rolling studio head, an actor whose sexuality is in flux—these people inhabit the world of beleaguered publicist Joe Bernardi. Like Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Joe operates in a 1940s Los Angeles full of femmes fatales, hucksters, and shady movers and shakers. But he’s no hard-drinking tough guy, just a man desperate to clear his name—the cops think he killed a dead actress—while trying to find satisfaction in his job at second-rate Continental Studios. He also wouldn’t mind reuniting with his ex-wife, Lydia, whose house he watches in the wee hours. Joe’s struggling to regain his life after the war, and his soft heart and fledgling courage stand out against the old-fashioned whodunit plot in which there’s no shortage of suspects, including Mafia men, all with convincing motives for murder. Adding depth and color are descriptions of LA that are at once nostalgic and believable. Observations from Joe’s viewpoint slyly echo the era and the genre: “the job suits her like a size 2 silk slip,” and “he can squeeze a penny hard enough to make Lincoln cry.” That’s what makes the story snap: the familiar yet original characters and their sparkling dialogue. Author Fischer spent many years as a Hollywood scriptwriter, and his talent for authentic voice and tight repartee shines in this first installment of the Hollywood Murder Mysteries series. The background is steeped in movie lore, with names and events of the time—Farley Granger, Gail Russell and the Black Dahlia murder case—cropping up to set the tale against real Hollywood history. Layered with complex relationships that are rarely what they seem, the tightly drawn plot carefully unveils its mysteries; even as one murder is solved, more twists pop up to ensure revelations right up to the satisfying ending.
An enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit from opening act to final curtain.
A former news anchor and a college professor find themselves on the run from a lethal U.S. agency in the second political thriller from Fischer (The Blood of Tyrants, 2009).
Law professor Ken Bannister comes into possession of a cassette tape of the White House Chief of Staff implicating the administration in a murder plot. Believing he’s in danger, he calls his old friend Brian Everett, who was once a TV news reporter and wrote a San Francisco Chronicle article criticizing the president’s response to a protest. They soon realize that terrorist assaults around the country may be domestically orchestrated. Both men catch the attention of the Federal Security Force, which treats any unfavorable actions or words against the government as high treason. At its core, Fischer’s novel is dystopian: The government owns all the TV networks, and, as the FSF pursues the two men, the president implements a 72-hour Internet shutdown. Everett laments that all George Orwell “got wrong was the exact year” in 1984. But Fischer’s setting is not a post-apocalyptic or near-future world—it’s modern-day. Many readers will relate to the fears at play: the threat of martial law, a crumbling economy and the idea that a foreign threat has been manufactured. There’s a hefty amount of action, as well, as Bannister and Everett race to the Canadian border to find a man who’s broadcasting anti-government messages. Meanwhile, the FSF and the Department of Homeland Security try to freeze others out of an investigation of passenger-train bombings and push the CIA and FBI into becoming allies, creating a civil war, of sorts, among U.S. agencies. The technology does seem a bit dated—for example, a “sophisticated recording system” uses cassette tapes, and no one thinks to make a digital copy—but it doesn’t diminishes the story or its rock-solid ending.
A concise but considerable thriller, and a fine companion piece to the author’s similarly themed debut.
In former TV writer-producer Fischer’s debut thriller, a seemingly random assortment of U.S. citizens targets members of Congress.
Disgraced reporter turned tabloid TV show host Paul Castle has the chance to cover a real story. His former colleague-lover Jennie Bovano tells him that an autopsy suggests that a recently deceased congressman may have been murdered. Paul’s investigation soon connects the deaths of several members of Congress, but their alleged killers seem to have no link to one another. Soon an enigmatic organization called SST takes credit for the murders, lists its “acceptable” members of Congress on a website—and marks the others for death. The novel is unmistakably driven by politics but without leaning to any one side. For example, SST deems those in its crosshairs as socialists, but the book also criticizes capitalism with a subtle anti-big-business motif. The story’s most resounding theme has less to do with politics than with the human response to mass killings. Frighteningly, the public gradually accepts and supports SST’s message and essentially approves of murder. It’s not surprising that innocents are soon caught in the crossfire of SST’s self-proclaimed war. Paul and Jennie are worthy leads, but they’re outdone by secondary characters such as homicide police detective Lt. Aaron Kovacs—who, in his first interview with Paul, kicks off his shoes and massages a sore foot—and Fowler Briggs, a hardened FBI agent who grudgingly befriends Paul after first threatening him. As a thriller, the book is a triumph, with some outrageous killings: At one point, a congressman is assassinated on the golf course, and, at another, a killer apologizes to a woman immediately after killing her husband. Despite the novel’s modern plot, much of its dialogue is emphatically, charmingly old school: Paul is “slugged” by a cop; an anonymous caller warns Paul to avoid “funny business”; and the reporter tells Kovacs that he’s “sniffing around a major lead.”
An engaging, complex political thriller.
In Fischer’s (Pray for Us Sinners, 2013, etc.) historical thriller, a schoolteacher widowed in World War II becomes a liaison for a French patriot who, unbeknownst to her, is a Nazi spy.
When Nan Guthrie gets word that her husband, Nick, died in the Battle of Tarawa, she hopes to contribute to the war effort by enlisting in the Military Intelligence Service. But Lt. Col. Bertram Kelso, with close ties to the Office of Strategic Services, has other ideas for Nan. He wants her close to Frenchman Andre Le Valle, since Nan’s a dead ringer for Le Valle’s dead fiancee. Kelso tells Nan to retrieve info on French Resistance forces but fails to mention, quite intentionally, that Le Valle is one of Hitler’s most trusted agents. Meanwhile in the South Pacific, Nick wakes from his coma, misidentified as another officer. He goes AWOL and travels across the country to Washington, D.C., to find his wife, who’s apparently missing. Fischer’s novel solidifies its love/war theme in its opening: Nick, on Tarawa’s shore, recalls when he first met Nan, mere months before Pearl Harbor. Fischer quickly moves the story to Nan’s new gig, but the romantic prelude is effective, and Nick’s desperate search for Nan sears with dramatic intensity. The drama is further boosted by Le Valle’s genuine love for Nan, who may have reciprocal feelings as well. Everyone has a great deal at stake. Nan’s former boss, Lt. Carter Prescott, for example, complicates her predicament when, to make up for his prior mistreatment of Nan, he sets out to provoke some Nazis and prove that restaurateur Le Valle is shady. All of this happens against a backdrop of real-life events, and readers will immediately understand the importance of the bogus intel Nan feeds Le Valle—lest the Nazis learn the genuine date and location of D-Day.
Persuasive romance perfectly suited to an authentic WWII backdrop.