Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Enjoys the Night Life

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: Night Life by David C. Taylor

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

NIGHT LIFEFor October, our Murder In the Afternoon book club goes back to the not so fabulous Fifties with the Edgar nominated Night Life. It it the first in the Michael Cassidy series. We’re happy to announce the author, David C. Taylor, will be calling into the discussion.

Michael Cassidy works as a police detective n New York, even though he has a well off background. His father made himself a Broadway mogul and his brother works for the fledgling broadcaster ABC. When Michael catches the murder of a chorus boy, the investigation leads him through a red scare world of the mob, FBI, CIA, and Russian agents with appearances by the likes of Roy Cohn and gangster Frank Costello.

Night Life‘s hero, place and period gives us a lot to talk about and Mr. Taylor knows the period well. We will be meeting on BookPeople’s third floor at 1PM, Monday, October 17th. Copies of Night Life are 10% off in-store for those who attend.

You can find copies of Night Life on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club meets the third Monday of each month at 1 PM. Our upcoming meeting to discuss Night Life is next Monday, October 17th, at 1 PM on Bookpeople’s 3rd floor. Author David C. Taylor will be calling in to the discussion. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with David C. Taylor

David C. Taylor joins us at BookPeople Monday, April 11, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his second novel, Night Work. He joins Stuart Woods, speaking and signing his latest Stone Barrington novel, Family Jewels

Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery


MysteryPeople Scott: What was the biggest difference between working on your first book, Night Life, and the follow up?

David C. Taylor: In Night Life I was going back to prose for the first time in years, and I had to shed some of the habits one picks up writing for movies and TV where you describe the scene in only the most rudimentary way, because you know that the production designer, the director, the director of photography, and all the other team members who make a movie are going to decide what everything looks like. In prose you have to build your world from the ground up. But more than that, in Night Life everything was discovery. I had to find out for the first time who my characters were, how they behaved, what they thought, their weaknesses and strengths, how they saw the world and what that world looked like, and all of that was new to me, because I had never met these people before.

In Night Work I had become more comfortable with the latitude prose allows the writer. In movie writing you try to get into a scene as late as possible, and out of a scene as early as possible, and you are restricted to telling your story in about 110 pages. You want to be disciplined in prose, but you do have more room to continue a scene, to add information, to be somewhat more discursive. And I already knew things about Cassidy and Orso and Ribera and Dylan and about Cassidy’s family, so now I could build on what I knew and try to discover things about them that I did not yet know.

MPS: What drew you to use Castro’s visit to New York as a main part of the plot?

DCT: I was looking for another historical moment on the cusp of change. Night Life takes place just as Senator Joseph McCarthy was about to lose his power. In Night Work it was Castro’s first visit to New York in 1959 when he had not yet assumed the formal leadership of Cuba. He was invited, not by our government, but by an association of newspaper editors. The Cold War was at its height. The fear of Communism was very strong in the country, but Castro had not yet embraced Communism. His brother, Raoul, had, as had Che Guevara, but Fidel was still claiming to be a socialist. However, the political climate in America at that time was “if you’re not for us, you’re against us,” and there were forces in the country who had already decided that Castro was an enemy: the Mafia, because he was taking over their casinos in Cuba, American business interests, because he had nationalized the telephone company, and they thought that was the beginning of the end of U.S. business power in Cuba, and the U.S. Government which was wary of a communist nation 90 miles from Miami. The intersection of those disparate interests with the shared goal of getting rid of Castro seemed to me the perfect petri dish in which to hatch a plot.

“Living in New York was a rush. Everything moved fast. The noise was constant. You went to sleep listening to the traffic below like the sound of a river. You woke to sirens and the rasp of the brakes on a bus. The smell of the city was ever present. Even now, years later, when I go back to New York, I pick up its rhythms very quickly. I find that I am walking faster, ignoring traffic lights, slipping through the crowds without bumping people.”

MPS: Castro is one of those characters both iconic and enigmatic. How did you approach him as a writer?

DCT: As a writer, one hopes to take the icon and make him human. There was enough available research to understand him, at least a little bit, as he was then, a relatively young man, newly triumphant, and not yetbeaten down by the burden he took on, and not yet a symbol rather than a human being. There was a wonderful, true moment during his trip when he was at the Bronx Zoo and he reached into the tiger’s cage and patted the tiger on head. It is a moment like that that reveals the man. As to the enigma, I do not know if I successfully penetrated that, but you have to remember that the Castro of 1959 did not yet carry all the mythology that has accrued to him in the last fifty some years. He was not yet a historic figure. He was a young man on the cutting edge of history, living in his present, but we view him from a distance caused by all that has happened since then. I was trying to show him as he was before his history happened, and, of course, he was not the primary character in the story, so I was able to sketch him rather than give him in detail.

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Edgar Nominations Announced!

 

mwaThe nominations for the 2016 Edgar Awards were announced last week. This seemed to be the year where great minds think alike – many of the nominees made in on to our best of 2015 lists, put together by Scott and Molly. 

We want to congratulate old friends and new favorites, including Duane Swierczynski, nominated for his novel Canary, David C. Taylor, for Night LifeMichael Robotham, for Life or DeathMegan Abbott, for her short story “The Little Men,” Philip Kerr, for The Lady From Zagreb, Lou Berney, for The Long and Faraway GoneLori Rader Day, for Little Pretty Things, David Joy, for Where All Light Tends To GoGordon McAlpine, for The Woman with the Blue Pencil, Jessica Knoll, for Luckiest Girl Alive, and Adrian McKinty, for Gun Street Girl.

Congratulations all the others who made it. Best of luck to everyone and have a great time in New York.

Click here for the full list of Edgar Nominees.

Scott’s Top 10 Debuts of 2015

– List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Usually I only pick five novels in this category, but this was such a great year for new voices, the list needed to be expanded. I even had to cheat a little and allowed two to tie for the top.

978039917277997803991739671. Where All Light tends To Go by David Joy & Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Both these authors proved there is still a lot of life in rural noir. Writing with the skill and emotion of seasoned pros, they bring the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia to vivid, poignant, and painful life with their tales of fate, family, and violence.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with David C. Taylor, Author of NIGHT LIFE


David C Taylor has been writing for film, TV, and theater since the seventies. He has written for classic shows like The Rockford Files and scripted several movies including the fun Tom Selleck caper flick, Lassiter (a personal favorite) and the rock comedy Get Crazy. His debut novel, Night Life, is a look into New York City of the Fifties. One almost hears the theme from the Burt Lancaster film Sweet Smell Of Success as we follow Michael Cassidy, a cop with a unique background, whose case puts him in the middle of the red scare and up against real life villain Roy Cohn. It is a book rich in story and character that never loses itself in the period and atmosphere it evokes. I recently talked talked to Mr. Taylor about his book and the period it tackled.


MysteryPeople: Michael Cassidy is an intriguing character who can move in many directions and has an interesting history. How did he come about?

David C. Taylor: It is difficult to know exactly how a character is born. If you have been watching people’s behavior and storing up incident for as long as I have, I think there are characters alive inside you, and when you begin to tap them, they grow naturally as you demand more and more of them. I did grow up with a father who worked in the New York theater world, so that was available to me. And I did not want to write a run of the mill character whose background would lead naturally to the police department. I wanted him to be a bit of an outsider in all the worlds he passes through.

MP: What drew you to Fifties New York as a setting?

DCT: New York in the Fifties was the New York I grew up in. It was a city that did not really change until the late Sixties, by which time I was in my twenties, and youth is the time in our lives when many memories become indelible. I wanted to write about that city, which I loved, without limiting the story by making it about a boy.

MP: You also use the world of theater, that you have experience with. What did you want to get across about the people in that life?

DCT: The Fifties was a glorious era for those who lived in the mainstream of American life, but not such a glorious era for those who were marginalized by color, or sexuality, or politics. Theater people, then and now, are tolerant of those on the margins, those who do not swim in the main stream, and that was the world Cassidy grew up in, the world that shaped him.

MP:The book has several real life characters like Roy Cohn and mobster Frank Costello. How do you approach historical characters in historical fiction?

DCT: I always thought that Roy Cohn was one of the great villains of America’s 20th Century. He was one of those people whose public stance was that he was trying to protect America from its enemies. He used to say that “God Bless America” was is favorite song, but he spent most of his life and energy trying to hijack the system for his own benefit. I have read a great deal about him, and I tried be true to who he was. Frank Costello is there in part because I wanted Tom Cassidy to have a criminal enterprise in his background, which is often part of the American story, and I wanted Cassidy to have access to that part of New York life that works in the shadows. I have, of course, created relationships between Costello and the Cassidy family that are fiction. The use of real life characters from the past allows the writer to examine the tendency of power to corrupt without the partisan passions that writing about contemporary characters ignites. And, you cannot libel a dead man.

MP:You’ve mainly wrote for film, television, and stage. What did you you enjoy the most about writing a novel?

DCT: Film, TV, and stage are collaborative media. The script is a blueprint to which others add insight in the hopes, sometimes realized, of improving the work. The theater belongs more to the writer than movies or TV, but novels allow the writer the luxury of succeeding or failing on his own merits. You write what you want, and though there is an editorial process that can have an influence on the finished product, the writer has the last word, which, after years of writing for movies and TV, I find very satisfying.

MP: After researching and writing about the McCarthy era, do you see it a the kind of history that can repeat itself?

DCT: It does repeat itself, and in some ways is repeating itself now. If the population can be scared enough, it tends to willingly give up some of its guaranteed liberties in hopes that the government will use its expanded power to protect its citizens. This was true when McCarthy was finding a Communist under every bed, and seems to be rising again when we are told that there is a terrorist around every corner. We are now facing intrusive surveillance by agencies like the NSA, and the growing militarization of our police forces.


You can find copies of Night Life on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.