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An Interview with Larry Beinhart: Author of The Deal Goes Down

August 15, 2022

The Deal Goes Down marks the return of Tony Casella, an ex-private eye who first appeared in Larry Beinhart’s Edgar Award winning novel No One Rides For Free in 1986, and reappeared in the follow-up novels You Get What You Pay For (1988) and Foreign Exchange (1992). This is the first Casella novel in thirty years and the character begins the story at a very low ebb. Estranged from his family, in financial trouble and on the brink of having his home repossessed, Casella is thrown a lifeline when he meets a woman named Maddie who offers him a well-paid assignment – murder her abusive husband. Things get complicated when Maddie, backed by a financier who funds “good causes”, compiles an array of dangerous assignments for Casella.

The Deal Goes Down is a gripping read, both thrilling and amusing in equal measure. It can be read as a standalone novel or as part of the Casella series. I strongly recommend that you jump on this narrative rollercoaster that begins in Woodstock NY and climaxes at an Austrian resort where Casella faces off against a Russian billionaire named God.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Beinhart about The Deal Goes Down. Talking to Larry is like reading one his novels. He is witty, clever and, like all good books, very companionable.

Just don’t mention Hollywood…

Interviewer: The Deal Goes Down marks the return of Tony Cassella. Could you tell us a little about the character and why you decided to bring him back after a thirty year hiatus.

Beinhart: I thought it might be a good idea for me to go back to my roots. Fundamentals. He doesn’t care. Unless I make him do so. If I was going to bring him back I thought it was interesting to make him 30 years older. A real 30 years. It’s a significant change, especially if it takes someone – anyone – into their seventies.

Once I started, it was just a matter of going with it as if it was real.

If you go back to the first book, you see he was a guy who started as an idealist. It was the time of Serpico and Bob Leuci (Prince of the City), if you remember all that, and like them his idealism hurt him. There’s also a very New York if you fuck with me, I’ll fuck with you reflex that we were taught in our school yards. One more layer is that he was smart enough to get into Yale law school (but left because he had to make a living when his father died.)

All those things allow him to act effectively and to let him get himself into trouble. When we last saw him, at the end of Foreign Exchangehe was actually happy and optimistic. Newly married to the mother of his first child, ready to reconcile those conflicting impulses.

Interviewer: Part of the genius of Casella is that, when he is being roped into various serious crimes, he can anticipate how the police will investigate, and therefore wrongfoot them. Do you do a lot of research into modern detection methods?

Beinhart: The “modern” elements of modern detection methods are, for the most part, matters of common knowledge.

Most important, the electronic footprints of our e-devices, computers and phones.

I’ve seen and read lots of crime/thriller dramas where those elements play an important part. Except for the Dragon Tattoo girl, it always the genius sidekick or super-tech-wiz that the hero knows who does the e-wizardry. The hero asks, that person delivers. We never see it done.

I want to see it done. Or, if I were to use a wizard, I’d want to at least see how one is found, contacted, operates.

So, I stick with matters that are in reach or easily researched.

An auto accident? Definitely a mechanical analysis, likely a tox screen. What do tox screens reveal? Look on the net or ask your friends who use a lot of mood elevators.

It’s more that he thinks through what they’re certain to do.    

Interviewer: The novel covers a lot of serious topics, everything from domestic abuse and murder to international intrigue, but always with a terrific sense of humour. How important is it for you to have a comedic element to your writing and who were your influences?

Beinhart: There’s a scene in the book in which Tony goes into the local coffee shop.

Beinhart [yes, that’s me] was at Bread Alone, as usual, in his regular corner, the NY Times open in front of him. He claims to read it for the comedy and sure enough he broke out cackling.

Jay Samoff, a retired local lawyer, sitting beside him, said, “You know the rules, no snickering unless you share.”

That’s literal reportage of a real scene. Except for Tony being there, since he’s not real. That’s my mentality. To some degree my culture, classic post-war New York City. Also, a lot of life is really quite funny.

Interviewer: You reference yourself in the novel and make some satiric digs at Hollywood, including the shocking Buchwald Vs Paramount case. What would your advice be to writers in Hollywood to help them avoid being exploited?

Beinhart: Hah! Hahaha.

I have no idea how to avoid it. Some small amounts can be fought by a good agent (if you have one, if they care) or lawyer (if they’re good, well positioned, and you can afford one). If you have more power than the person you’re up against. If you’re lucky. If you’re so successful with other things – books or whatever – that you can turn down offers for years and figure you’ll be happy if there’s never a deal.  

Most of the time the writer needs the deal more than the deal-makers need the writer. Then calculate if it still works for you.

Interviewer: The novel is timely as a subplot examines Putin’s inner circle. Do you enjoy writing about contemporary politics in fiction and does the current state of the world worry you, or do you have optimism for our future?

Beinhart: I write about politics and economics a lot.

Actually, I was trying to make this book not be explicitly political. Certainly not in the sense that Wag the Dog and The Librarian were. But we live in a political world. Our lives are constantly shaped by economic policies. So, it’s there.

The current state of the world, compared to what? The Great Depression? World War II? Segregation in the US and apartheid in South Africa? Putin compared to Stalin? COVID v. pre-vaccination polio?

Optimism would be based on prediction. Will it get better? Will it get worse? If I had to guess, I’d say clearly on the road to better – better science, technology, material production, nutrition, medicine, education, involving more and more people – unless something manages to blow it up. All that positive stuff is happening, relentlessly, no matter how many politicians, theologians, pundit-entertainers, want to dig us down into the mud of our illiterate histories.

Larry Beinhart

 

Highbrow Lowbrow: Theatre of Blood vs Event Horizon

August 13, 2022

In this special horror-themed episode of Highbrow Lowbrow, I discuss one of my favourite horror films Theatre of Blood starring the great Vincent Price. My podcast co-host Dan Slattery argues that Event Horizon is an unjustly forgotten nineties classic. Expect good-natured banter as we discuss two horror films dripping in gore and go on diversions that take in everything from Hellraiser to Classical theatre.

You can listen here.

Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart in Theatre of Blood. The performer hiding behind the wig, moustache and sunglasses is Diana Rigg

Highbrow Lowbrow: Lisztomania vs Xanadu

August 7, 2022

The latest episode of Highbrow Lowbrow is a Musical special. I discuss Lisztomania, Ken Russell’s surreal biopic of Franz Liszt starring Roger Daltrey as the eponymous composer. My podcast co-host Dan Slattery defends the much maligned but cult classic Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly.

You can listen here. Enjoy!

A James Ellroy Playlist: Obsession

August 1, 2022

‘Since I Don’t Have You’ is one of James Ellroy’s greatest short stories. Turner “Buzz” Meeks is hired by Howard Hughes to locate one of his favourite “actresses” (a polite euphemism for Casting Couch victim). Her name is Gretchen Rae Shoftel. Hughes has lost track of her and is suffering from a severe case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. Things get complicated when Meeks is also hired by Mickey Cohen to find Gretchen. Cohen had a one night stand with Gretchen and has grown obsessed with her since she disappeared. Another associate of Meeks is RKO Film Producer Sid Weinberg. Weinberg is described as a ‘Filthy rich purveyor of monster cheapies’. He completes the trinity of men obsessed with women who have vanished, ‘he was known to be in love with a dazzling blonde starlet named Glenda Jensen, who hotfooted it off into the sunset, never to be seen again’. Meeks notes that Glenda ‘looked suspiciously like (Gretchen)’. Meeks locates the troubled Gretchen, and in order to keep her out of the clutches of Hughes and Cohen he introduces her to Sid Weinberg, and the actress and producer begin a happy partnership making ultra-cheap but profitable films together.

Gilda, Amado Mio

In his study of Ellroy, Peter Wolfe notes that a ‘possible source for Glenda’s name is the title character of the 1946 movie, Gilda, played by redhaired Rita Hayworth, whose income taxes Ellroy’s father prepared.’ Glenda Jensen may be a forerunner to Glenda Bledsoe in Ellroy’s White Jazz, who is also an actress Howard Hughes is trying to obtain information on. It’s worth noting that Ellroy often loosely based his female characters on his partners, and The Big Nowhere was dedicated to a woman named Glenda he was in a relationship with at the time. However, in White Jazz there is a reference to Gilda which suggests the film may have been a source of inspiration to the author. Lieutenant Dave Klein is reading a file on a suspect who is a paedophile named ‘Rita Hayworth’

‘Panty sniffers, sink shitters, masturbators – lingerie jackoffs only. Faggot burglars, transvestite break-ins, ‘Rita Hayworth’ – Gilda gown, dyed bush hair, caught blowing a chloroformed toddler. The right age – but a jocker cut his dick off, he killed himself, a full-drag San Quentin burial.’

In the film Gilda, the titular character performs two songs. The most famous is “Put the Blame on Mame”, a sexy number in which she wears the ‘Gilda gown’, a strapless black dress which helped to cement the image of the femme fatale. All of Hayworth’s singing in Gilda was dubbed by Anita Ellis. The more tender love song is “Amado Mio”, in which the dubbed Hayworth gets to showcase her dancing which was how her career began as a member of “The Dancing Cansinos”.

In “Since I Don’t Have You”:

Gretch also starred in the only Sid Weinberg vehicle ever to lose money, a tear jerker called Glenda about a movie producer who falls in love with a starlet who disappears off the face of the earth. The critical consensus was that Gretchen Rae Shoftel was a lousy actress, but had great lungs. Howard Hughes was rumoured to have seen the movie over a hundred times.

Since I Don’t Have You

Rewatching a film endlessly isn’t the only manifestation of Howard Hughes’s obsession. Meeks narrates:

A biography I read said that he (Hughes) carried a torch for the blonde whore straight off into the deep end. He’d spend hours at the Bel Air Hotel looking at her picture, playing a torchy rendition of “Since I Don’t Have You” over and over.

“Since I Don’t Have You” was a hit for The Skyliners in 1958. It has been covered many times since, and one might argue that by adopting the title and its pining for lost love themes Ellroy has covered it himself. There are chronology issues here. Ellroy’s “Since I Don’t Have You” is set in the 1949, and in LA Confidential Meeks is killed by Dudley Smith in February 1951. But the Meeks of this short story is an old man, perhaps a little ghostly, and is prone to some pining himself, ‘I miss Howard and Mickey, and writing this story has only made it worse.’

Below is a video of The Skyliners performing “Since I Don’t Have You”. The choreography isn’t great, but there’s something about its cheap B-Movie Western look that makes me a little nostalgic. It strikes me as something Sid Weinberg would produce starring his beloved Glenda.

Listen to this song and pine for your own Glenda/Gilda/Gretchen:

Highbrow Lowbrow: Licence to Kill vs Moonraker

July 26, 2022

The latest episode of Highbrow Lowbrow is a James Bond-themed special. My podcast co-host Dan Slattery and I have always loved debating the pros and cons of the different eras of the James Bond film series and the actors who have portrayed 007. In this episode, Dan defends Timothy Dalton’s gritty, serious performance as Bond in Licence to Kill. Whereas I argue for Roger Moore’s lighter more comedic approach in Moonraker.

Hope you enjoy listening, and let us know where you stand on the great Bond debate.

Rear Window by Cornell Woolrich Lives Again

July 18, 2022

The following post is written by guest author Jacklyn Saferstein-Hansen. Jacklyn Saferstein-Hansen is an agent at Renaissance Literary & Talent, the agency that represents Cornell Woolrich’s literary estate. She personally curates these brand new Woolrich collections in an effort to revitalize his work.

Rear Window. The title conjures the names Alfred Hitchcock, James Stewart, Grace
Kelly. But few know the writer to whom the 1954 film’s underlying story is attributed: Cornell
Woolrich.

One of the most famed crime and suspense writers of the 20th century, Woolrich penned
more than two dozen novels and over two hundred novellas and short stories throughout his
lifetime. Though his first suspense novel, The Bride Wore Black, published in 1940 to critical
acclaim, is perhaps his most renowned work, no Woolrich tale has had more prolonged success
and recognition than the short story “Rear Window.” Submitted to his editor under the title
“Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint,” it was published in 1942 under the name “It Had to be
Murder,” a much snappier and more fitting title for Dime Detective, the pulp magazine in which
it appeared. The name changed again when, two years later, the story appeared as “Rear
Window” in the 1944 fiction collection After-Dinner Story, and that’s the name that stuck. A
decade later, Hitchcock adapted it into the wildly successful thriller film whose nerve-shredding
sequences and questions of voyeurism still resonate today. The film is a marvelous adaptation of
the source material, but Woolrich’s original story offers a magic all its own that is best
experienced on the page.

For the first time in years, “Rear Window” helms a brand new short fiction collection,
this one with a murderous bent. Rear Window and Other Murderous Tales features eight more of
Woolrich’s best suspense tales, stories that “Rear Window” has never appeared with in previous
collections put out by other publishers. Many of these stories have not been in print for several
decades, so this collection will come as a treat for those looking to discover new Woolrich tales.
Each story within Rear Window and Other Murderous Tales has a murder at its center. The
reader experiences the psychological repercussions of this most gruesome crime through a
variety of perspectives: the murderer himself, the investigating detective, a witness, an amateur
sleuth, the falsely accused, and an innocent spouse. This is Woolrich at his best, using the
unspeakable act of murder to drive his characters to desperate ends in an unflinching
examination of human nature.

This new collection has just been released by Villa Romana Books, the publishing arm of Renaissance Literary & Talent, the agency that represents the various parties who control Woolrich’s literary estate. They’ve been nearly as prolific as Woolrich himself, recently putting out eight other fantastic volumes of his short fiction, creatively curated by theme: Women in Noir (three volumes), An Obsession with Death and Dying (two volumes), and Literary Noir: A Series of Suspense (three volumes). It’s thanks to the Renaissance team that Woolrich’s work lives again. They’ve sorted out complicated rights issues to the hundreds of stories and dozens of novels he wrote, and have pored through the canon to create these brand new collections for crime, suspense and noir fiction fans old and new. Renaissance’s robust ebook and paperback publishing platform has made available a vast array of Woolrich’s work, individually as well as in collections, and it is not to be missed. Gorgeous cover illustrations by talented artist Abigail Larson breathe colorful new life into each edition.


Rear Window and Other Murderous Tales, along with many other Woolrich works, is
available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback.

Highbrow Lowbrow Episode 3

July 14, 2022

The latest episode of Highbrow Lowbrow is now available. The theme is Eighties classics. My co-host, Dan Slattery, defends Electric Dreams and I argue the merits of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.

Sadly, only hours after we had recorded the episode it was reported in the press that Electric Dreams star Lenny Von Dohlen had died.

Front row from Left: Alan Howard, Richard Bohringer, Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

You can listen to the full episode here.

James Ellroy’s Hollywood Death Trip

July 10, 2022

The long-awaited podcast James Ellroy’s Hollywood Death Trip is now available on Audible. Here’s some more information about the series on Ellroy’s website. If you enjoy this series you may be delighted to hear that Audio Up are also producing a 12 episode podcast adaptation of American Tabloid. There have been many attempts to adapt American Tabloid over the years. It seems Audio Up have succeeded where Hollywood and the TV studios have failed.

Jill Dearman: Interview with the Author of JAZZED

July 4, 2022

Jazzed is the compelling new novel by Jill Dearman. It delivers an ingenious twist on the Leopold & Loeb case – what if the two killers were women? The setting is Barnard College for Women, New York City, in the 1920s. Wilhelmina ‘Will’ Reinhardt and Dorothy ‘Dolly’ Raab are Freshman roommates at Barnard. Like many people who are attracted to each other, Will and Dolly have an interesting combination of similarities and differences. They are both from upper middle class Jewish families. However, Will is bookish and shy whereas Dolly is dominant, confident and knows exactly how to tease Will by withholding affection. At first their relationship blossoms among the Harlem speakeasies that made New York the epicentre of the Jazz Age. But an interest in Nietzschean philosophy thrusts the two women into increasingly transgressive acts that will ultimately lead to their destruction. When, for reasons of barely concealed prejudice, Barnard officials pair the couple off with new roommates, Dolly decides that she and Will must break the ultimate taboo by committing, and getting away with, the perfect crime – kidnapping and murdering a child.

Anyone who is interested in the Leopold & Loeb case, or indeed any reader who broadly enjoys crime fiction, will find Jazzed riveting. This is a story which is by turns sexy, dark, disturbing and tragic and yet it all coheres seamlessly into an exhilarating read.

I’ve been corresponding with Jill for several years now as we are both fascinated with True Crime, Film Noir and James Ellroy. Every conversation with Jill is a joy. She has wit, verve and joie de vivre. Enjoy this interview and buy yourself a copy of Jazzed. It’s sizzling.

Interviewer: How did you become interested in the Leopold and Loeb case?

My late father, a New York City cab driver, was obsessed with true crime and introduced me to the case when I was an adolescent. There was something about the relationship between the two boys that resonated for me. I wondered how much the “madness” of desire and the hatred (by the mainstream) of that desire might be the spark that ignites the “need” to kill. If your very being – who you are as a person – is completely oppressed, and you are being kept from the one you love, wouldn’t you feel desperate? I believe my father had a lot of desperate drives and I explore some of the backstory of our relationship in this personal essay, “Compulsion.”

Interviewer: Was it difficult to transfer/adapt the personalities of two male killers into the personalities of Dolly and Will?

No! They poured out of me, as if Dolly and Will were waiting for a chance to come to life. Though Dolly was based on Loeb, and Will on Leopold, their inner lives were their own. As I wrote and revised it was clear that being women informed so much of their experience.

Interviewer: Have you always been fascinated by the Jazz Age, and how would you describe its legacy in America today?

No, I came to jazz later. I had recently picked up piano and developed an immediate love for improvisation, just a year before penning my writing book, Bang the Keys. There is something about jazz that is so deliriously uninhibited. Whether listening to jazz or reading a novel, that sense of music or prose being created in real time, through the art of improvisation, is just so thrilling. And I am endlessly fascinated by the way jazz stands as “America’s music.” I think all of the United States is one big improvisation. Unlike older culture, the United States seems to get by on fast talk and a strange lack of history, of groundedness. Jazz stands as a perfect model of America’s selective memory. We’re a country built on superconfidence and a predilection for hucksterism.

The swagger and bravado of jazz captures those vibes. And at the same time Jazz emerged from Black culture and was commodified by whites. This particular early ‘20s era of jazz that serves as a character in my book is of special fascination to me. All the lesbian jazz singers, the Black jazz acts that rose up from the underground against the odds; there was a sense of rebellion. By the Great Depression just five years later, the mood would change.

I’m reminded of the Obama years in the United States. It seemed like this country might just move towards a new time of personal freedom. A Black president. Gay marriage. Trans identity going mainstream. There was a terrific prestige television show that aired during Obama’s second term called Treme. David Simon of The Wire fame was one of the creators. Treme dealt with the jazz life in New Orleans, just after Hurricane Katrina. The sense of life and the sense of doom merge perfectly. Given the dark path America is taking, it’s a great time to revisit the Jazz age and compare notes from a 100 years ago.

Interviewer: You’ve experimented with a variety of styles with Jazzed and your previous novel The Great Bravura. How would you describe the difference in both style and narrative between the two novels?

Well, The Great Bravura was much more stylized noir, whereas Jazzed is more direct in terms of language. In Bravura, which was set in 1948, it was fun to use some surreal techniques, such as making gay marriage just a regular part of life. Given the state of the world today, that seems even more surreal! And since the novel revolves around magic, I felt compelled to explore not just the work-a-day world of a magician, but also elements of mysticism, and the unknown. Jazzed is realist in its narrative style, but the key plot element of music allows the characters to experience a kind of transcendence, universal love. And musicality is of great importance to me in my writing, so I really do try and “hear” books as I compose them.

Interviewer: The novel provides an important critique of sexism, racism and homophobia. How did you approach this when your two main characters commit the worst crime of all, so in theory they shouldn’t be sympathetic?

It’s interesting because we are living in a moment and in a world in which the interconnectedness among us is hard to miss. The book is set about a hundred years ago, before “intersectionality” was termed and before the Internet and the climate crisis allowed us to see with such immediacy how connected and interdependent we all are. What I wanted to do with Will and Dolly was show that they were influenced by the many forms of oppression they faced. To quote the Bruce Springsteen song, “Johnny 99”: “Now I ain’t saying that makes me an innocent man, but it was more than all this that put that gun in my hand.”

Jill Dearman

Highbrow Lowbrow: Episode Two

July 2, 2022

The second episode of Highbrow Lowbrow is now available. In this episode I discuss the neo-noir Killing Them Softly and my podcast co-host Dan Slattery defends the action thriller Taken 3. You can listen to it here. Enjoy!

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