FROM THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL TO THE DEAD HORSE RANCH

 

Maybe youíve wondered how small publishers like Ramble House select their titles for reprinting? After all, we have a century of mysteries, thrillers, horrors and terrors to choose from. Hereís how this exquisite little mystery from Raoul Whitfield managed to push itself into the highly desired queue at Ramble House.

It started with an e-mail from Jim Weiler, the man who taught me everything good about computers. (The bad stuff I learned all on my own.) With the e-mail was an attachment with 25 DOCs of old public domain novels in it, each titled by the name of the book and its author. While I spend my time grousing about Amazon and copyrights, Jim methodically turns old books into Word DOCs.

Most of the books and names Iíd never heard of but one caught my eye ó Raoul Whitfield. I knew that name and it had a special significance for me. Didnít I read something about him and some wild parties in Las Vegas New Mexico? And a murder?

Then it all came back to me. Yes! Raoul Whitfield was a big-name Hollywood writer in the 20s and 30s who wised up and realized that the northeastern quarter of New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places on earth. He and his wife built the Dead Horse ranch in Las Vegas NM (by far the classiest Las Vegas of all) and would throw elaborate and wild parties there, inviting prominent jet-setters from all over the world.

But how did I know all this? Iím not an internet lurker. Then it hit me like the wet fist of an overweight onanist: Dennis McMillan! Didnít Dennis publish a book about Raoul Whitfield and didnít he send me a signed copy a few years back?

So I found on my bookshelf a beautiful hardcover of DEAD HORSE, by Walter Satterthwait, published in 2006 by Dennis McMillan, the gonzo publisher we all try to emulate. It is a well-written novel about Whitfield and the murder of his wife, Emily Vanderbilt Thayer, in 1935. Or was it suicide? There is an intriguing twist to the story. His wife, who was left-handed, was found in bed with a gun in her right hand and shot in the left side of her torso. Does anyone commit suicide this way?

Satterthwait, who has established himself as one of the top New Mexico mystery writers with his series featuring PI Joshua Croft, tackles the crime in a fresh way and comes up with his own solution. I highly recommend DEAD HORSE and hope you can find a copy.

But back to Whitfield before he and Emily built the Las Vegas ranch. He was one of the highest paid screen writers in Hol-lywood when he wrote DEATH IN A BOWL. The bowl was relatively new back then and the concerts were less of a spectacle than they are now, but Whitfieldís descriptions of the layout and atmosphere at concert time make it seem real, probably even to those of you who have been to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Thereís an edginess to the dialog and plotting of DEATH IN A BOWL that portends the subversive elegance of enchilada-powered orgies in the high deserts of New Mexico featuring the beautiful people of 1935. And maybe even murder?

Eventually, every old novel of the 20th century will be scanned and preserved, but surely we should start with the best. Thanks to Dennis McMillanís fortuitous collaboration with Walter Satterthwait in 2006, Iím considering DEATH IN THE BOWL one of the best. See what you think.

 

Fender Tucker

Vancleave MS

February 2016