Barris (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) misses the mark with this grating attempt at whodunit parody. Heir to millions, Arthur "Art" Deco Jr. wants nothing to do with his father's mammoth company, Kentucky-based Deco Industries, preferring to hobnob in Manhattan. So when he falls in love with wannabe actor Eddie Cotton and gleefully announces to his father, Arthur Deco Sr., that he's gay, it doesn't sit well with Deco Sr. or the rest of Art's Southern family. When Art is discovered shot in his apartment, the police are quick to call it a suicide and avoid a high-profile investigation. But then Jimmy Netts, a former podiatrist-turned-unlicensed-PI from Philadelphia, recently relocated to Bowling Green, Ky., hits the scene, hired by Deco Sr. to look into Art's death and prove it was murder. Netts gets most of his investigative techniques from old episodes of Homicide, but manages to bumble along, thanks to the help of two unbelievably cooperative NYPD detectives, finally stumbling upon the underwhelming truth. Unfortunately, Barris's characters are one-dimensional stereotypes, and the sophomoric humor is, well, very sophomoric. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Who Killed Art Deco?: A Novelby Chuck Barris
Art Deco Jr. is heir to a vast fortune, scion of one of America's most powerful men -- Art Deco Sr. -- though by the time we meet him in these pages, Art has fallen into a life of depravity: booze, drugs, you name it. The Deco family is almost too embarrassed to acknowledge him as their own. And by the time Art is found shot dead in his elegant Manhattan apartment, there is a long list of friends and family who may have wanted to kill him -- so the police have their work cut out for them.
NYPD detectives Eddie Roach and Jackie Hallerhan are up against a wall when private investigator Jimmy Netts is called on the case by Art Deco Sr. His first case, no less! Netts teams with the NYPD (mostly because he's not exactly sure how to go about solving crimes, much less understands the procedure, and doesn't have a detective's license) to find out who killed poor Art Jr. It could be just about anyone.
As a storyteller, the infamous Chuck Barris is the blackest comedian there is. As a satirist, his is a wickedly razor-sharp voice. The deadpan dialogue, investigative snafus, crime drama parody, and cast of hilarious characters in Who Killed Art Deco? bring to mind an unholy combination of Agatha Christie and the Pink Panther, with just a dash of Homicide. This is a dark and delightfully funny book from an equally, delightfully, troubled mind.
Before American Idol and the Dr. Phil Show, there were The Gong Show and The Dating Game, two wildly successful 1960s TV game shows that emphasized straight-ahead entertainment blissfully free of glitz, angst, or, indeed, substance. Both were creations of Barris, who has since gone in for writing (The Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and who hasn't lost his touch. In his latest novel, arriving just in time for vacation season, the protagonist, Arthur Deco Jr., realizes that he's gay, an insight that comes to him when he's passionately kissing Eddie Cotton, the spitting image of a young Dean Martin. Art's lifestyle is looked on unfavorably, though, by members of his wealthy Kentucky family, and before too long Art and Eddie have a messy breakup. When Art turns up murdered, the private detective (and former podiatrist) hired to track down the culprit doesn't have to look far afield to find a couple of prime suspects. It's fair to say that nobody picking up a book with this title and authored by the legendary producer will likely be disappointed. Recommended summer reading, especially for those who remember the young Dean Martin. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ2/1/09.]
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Read an Excerpt
Arthur Deco Junior was behaving like Euro-trash.
He was spending his trust fund on drugs and drink, cavorting with weird, freaky friends, and wearing bizarre clothes. Art Deco had let his hair grow down to his shoulders. He wore an earring in one ear. Strange objects dangled from his neck. He had put on weight. He looked nothing like his original self. Friends of his family had no idea who Arthur Deco Junior was when they passed him on the street in New York, and therefore didn't report his bizarre behavior to his father in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Art roamed all over the East Village with half-wit friends until the wee hours of the morning, zonked out of his mind on alcohol, assorted narcotics, and hallucinogens inhaled, injected, taken down the throat, and up the ass. When the evening had finally gone belly-up, the drugged heir to a monstrous Kentucky fortune would hitch a ride back to his Park Avenue duplex apartment with the first available garbage truck going his way. The workers of the New York Sanitation Department's midnight-to-eight shift knew Arthur Deco Junior well. They referred to him as Young Artie.
Junior was living an existential life. Or trying to. He was attempting to exist in the moment and to the max. It was the popular thing to do among the Village crowd at the time. Art Deco had never lived life to the max. Not even in school. He was never popular. He was always terribly introverted, with tons of complexes. The problem, as Arthur Deco Junior saw it, was Arthur Deco Senior, his father. Always pressuring him todo better; to be a better student than he was, to be a better athlete than he was, and eventually to be a better Chairman of the Board than Senior could've ever hoped to be. The pressure had a reverse effect. Junior didn't want to be any of those things.
Arthur Deco Junior was sent to Andover, the private school Arthur Deco Senior had attended; to Yale, the university Arthur Deco Senior had attended; and to Harvard Law School, the law school Arthur Deco Senior had attended. Junior was to become a lawyer and then Chairman of the Board of Deco Industries. It was all written in stone.
Arthur Deco Junior couldn't remember having a smidgen of fun during his entire education. That included grammar school. Having fun was not part of the Deco vocabulary. All the Deco family ever did was work. Not me, Junior swore to himself -- he was going to have fun before being incarcerated for the rest of his natural life behind the walls of Deco Industries' home office in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The first thing Arthur Deco Junior did was quit the law firm that employed him. Then young Deco went off to do some serious hellraising. One example of Junior's idea of fun was hanging out with his two friends, Basil Sweeney and Ray Barno, two bozos of subnormal intelligence. The threesome generally trolled the Village whacked on high voltage hash one of them had scored. Why did Junior hang out with garbage? Simply because Barno and Sweeney let Art tag along. No one else would. Arthur Deco Junior was a dork.
Art's friends, Barno and Sweeney, were always broke. They either scrounged dinners from Salvation Army cafeterias or washed dishes in the kitchens of scuzzy little restaurants for meals. The two usually slept in shelters for the homeless.
Junior didn't eat in Salvation Army cafeterias or sleep in homeless shelters. When he was uptown and not slumming with his Neanderthal friends, wealthy Art Deco chose to eat in expensive East Side restaurants and sleep in his impressive apartment in a building on the corner of Eighty-third and Park Avenue, about as prestigious an address as you could find in Manhattan.
Art's apartment was a six-thousand-square-foot duplex, decorated with expensive furniture, paintings, and sculpture. It was here Art Deco brought New York's flotsam and jetsam, bums like Barno and Sweeney, other assorted ne'er-do-wells, scuzzy bimbos, and of course his buddies from the Sanitation Department.
The flotsam were impressed.
Junior's father, Arthur Deco Senior, had no idea what his son was up to and the life he was leading. God knows the size of the fit he would have had if he found out.
Senior's father, a hugely successful farmer named Ballard Deco, had been known as the Tobacco King of the South. Son Arthur returned from Korea, borrowed money from Ballard, and founded a small hardware store in the family's hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. The hardware store, driven by the son's ambition and ingenuity, evolved into Deco Industries: a conglomerate that included Deco Petroleum, Deco Pharmaceuticals, Deco Home-Owners Insurance Corporation of America, several radio and television stations, two newspapers, Deco Computer, Inc. (the backbone of the conglomerate), and the original hardware store.
Deco Industries employed nineteen thousand employees worldwide, with plants and offices in Bowling Green, Houston, Chicago, New York, London, Hamburg, Rome, and Hong Kong. Father Ballard was Chairman of the Board, and son Arthur was Chief Executive Officer of the empire. Both Old Man Ballard and his son Arthur were rich and testy sons-of-bitches.
Upon his father's death, Arthur Deco assumed the title Senior.
Arthur Deco Senior married beautiful Margaret Hollingford when the two attended Western Kentucky University thirty-four years ago. The couple produced son Arthur (now age twenty-eight), the oldest of the Deco children, called Junior and heir to the throne; two married daughters, Harriet Deco Strange (twenty-six), called Hattie, Elizabeth Deco Brown (twenty-four), called Lizzie; and one unmarried daughter, Seena Deco (twenty-two). Arthur Deco Senior's family were Methodist and Republican.
Arthur Deco Senior and his daughter Mrs. Hattie Deco Strange were also extremely anti-Semitic, racist, and major homophobes.
It was a Saturday in late October when Arthur Deco Senior decided to have his son flown to his favorite mountain in Myles Standish State Park in Massachusetts, to see how the boy was getting on.
Senior had spotted the flat-topped mountain while flying as low as he could in his twin-engine Cessna Mustang. He had been on one of his solo trips from their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to the family compound in Camden, Maine. It was during these solo trips that Senior liked to "explore" the countryside just above the tree line. The flat-topped mountain was almost in the center of the Myles Standish State Forest. The good thing about the mountaintop was that two helicopters could land comfortably on its crown.
On this particular Saturday, Senior piloted his Bell 429 helicopter from Bowling Green to Massachusetts, with several stops along the way for fuel. The founder of Deco Industries owned two Bell helicopters. He kept one in New York, the one he sent to pick up his son. Junior was waiting at the helicopter pad on Thirty-fourth Street adjacent to the East River Drive in Manhattan. He was flown from there to the mountain.
Art Deco was sick and tired of thinking about seeing his father. It always meant trouble, sometimes severe trouble. The unseasonably cold, cloudy October weather only added to Junior's unhappiness and discomfort. Meeting his father usually augured a lecture, an argument, or both.
Junior was the first to arrive on the mountaintop. His father landed next. Arthur Deco Senior climbed out of his helicopter wearing his grandfather's hand-me-down World War I leather flying helmet that snapped on under his chin, a yellow scarf, and his Navy Air Force leather jacket with all his old squadron emblems sewn on it. Ballard Deco's father had used the leather flying helmet in World War I. Ballard had used it in World War II. His son, Arthur, had worn the flying helmet in Korea.
Arthur Deco Senior was furious when he saw his son. "My God, Junior, your hair looks like a girl's."
"Thank you, Father."
"I want you to cut it."
"It's the style, Father."
"It may be the style in Jew York, but I can tell you this. It is definitely not the style in Bowling Green, Kentucky."
The two men glared at each other. Both could hear the October wind blowing through the trees. Gray-black clouds skittered across the sky. The air was heavy with rain. Junior was freezing. He was only wearing a leather jacket and a black T-shirt that said UP YOURS in white letters on the front. The T-shirt was hidden by his buttoned-up jacket.
"From now on, Junior, when you come to meet me you dress accordingly. Understand?"
Junior wondered why he had never dressed "accordingly" when coming to see his father. Probably to get the automatic rise out of the old man he always got. He hoped one day the shock of seeing him not dressed accordingly would kill him. Cause the old goat to have a fatal heart attack, or a stroke, or something. Nothing would please Junior more than surprising his father in such a way as to cause his death. He daydreamed someone would telephone him someday to tell him his father had dropped dead on the street in Bowling Green. Fat chance. The old man was healthy as a horse. Junior was convinced Senior would outlive him by twenty years.
Tough as nails, was how most people described Arthur Deco Senior. And he was, thought Art. The mean bastard will die in bed over a hundred years old. No pain, no strain; just one minute his eyes are open, and the next they're shut. His family will be standing around his bed kissing his ass, or trying to, until the bitter end.
Art wouldn't be at his father's funeral. Seena would go grudgingly. His mother and sisters, mean Hattie and wishy-washy Elizabeth and their boot-licking husbands, would be standing around Senior's bed, along with the family's kowtowing butler, Donald. They all would be hoping for handouts. Hattie wishing her father would say, Hattie, I want you to run the company. Lizzie hoping he'd say, Elizabeth, dear, I'm very proud of you. And always have been. And Donald, the suck-up butler, praying the old bastard would say, And Donald, I bequeath you one million dollars. Fat chance of any of that happening.
"Do something about your goddamned hair, you hear?" barked Arthur Deco Senior, snapping Junior out of his daydream. "I want your hair looking normal, not like some kind of fairy, next time I see you."
"Are you a fairy, son? Don't lie to me."
"No, Father, I am not a fairy."
"What are you, then, with your damned long hair, and little diamond earring in the lobe of your ear, and all those...those...trinkets around your neck?"
"I'm me, Father."
"And what the hell kind of answer is that? 'I'm me.'"
"What do you want me to say, Father?"
"You're not ashamed of walking around the law firm with that pansy hairdo?"
"No, I'm not."
"And those clothes. Even though it's a weekend, how can a decent, churchgoing, American Christian wear clothes like that? Tell me, Junior, why...why do you wear such...such..."
"Yes." Senior sounded relieved. He was referring to Junior's black leather jacket with all the silver studs, and the thin, tightfitting black leather pants that outlined his son's ass and balls.
"You wear watermelon slacks and sherbert-colored sweaters," said Junior, "and nobody yells at you. If that outfit doesn't look gay, I don't know what does."
"Be careful how you talk to me, son," said Senior, smiling an evil smile. As if a snake had tried to grin.
"While we're up here," said Art's father, "tell me this. Are you dating a Jew?"
"Are you dating a colored?"
"So what is it? You're guilty about something, so get it the hell off your chest. "
"I quit my job," confessed Junior. "I'm not working at Schatzberg, Downey, and Pels anymore."
"You did what? You quit working for -- Do you know how many strings I pulled to get you that job? How hard I came down on that firm? I had to work like a dog to get you into Schatzberg, Downey, and Pels."
"I know how hard you pressured them to take me," said Junior. "Everyone in the law firm reminded me of that every single day. That's part of why I quit the damn job."
"What's the other part? Too many Jews in the law firm. That I could understand. If you had told me tha -- "
"I don't want to be a lawyer, Father. I don't want to work in a law firm, because all that means is I'll be a lawyer for Deco Industries sooner or later."
"What's so bad about that? And it would only be for a short time. You'll be chairman of the board when I retire."
"Oh, come off it, Father, you're not going to retire. Not in my lifetime. Besides, I don't want to be Chairman of the Board of Deco Industries. That's no fun. I want to do something better with my life."
"Deco Industries isn't good enough for you? The business I built with my two hands, slaved over, worked in good times and bad, none of that's good enough for my only son? Well, that's interesting. So what is the 'something better' you want to be?"
"I want to be a veterinarian."
"A what? A veterinarian? You want to spend your life sticking your hand up a mare's doohickey feeling around for her foal?"
"Yes sir. That's what I want to do."
"Well, you can't be a veterinarian. It would be a disgrace if you didn't carry on the Deco name in the family business; the business I spent my entire working life building is not the business I'm going to give to a total stranger."
"Let Hattie run Deco Industries. She's always wanted to do that."
"I'm going to hand Deco Industries over to my son, and that's final."
There was something Junior didn't tell his father that windy afternoon on the mountaintop. Art didn't mention anything about the girl he intended to marry. Not yet. Art wanted to surprise Senior. ut first he wanted to make sure he had her father's permission to marry. Art said nothing on the mountain because he didn't want to jinx getting the judge's approval.
The young lady Art Deco wanted to marry was Carrie Vandeveer.
They'd met on a blind date. Carrie was the youngest of four beautiful sisters in a prominent South Carolina family. Carrie Vandeveer was a friend of Art's sister Seena. The two girls went to the Mannerly Methodist Girls School, an exclusive -- and expensive -- girls' prep school outside of Columbia, South Carolina. Carrie was in her first year when Seena was in her last.
Seena Deco, who happened to be Junior's favorite sister, had arranged the blind date.
Carrie Vandeveer was nineteen years old and about to start her studies at Columbia University in Manhattan. She was going to be a doctor. Carrie visited New York on weekends looking for an apartment. She came on Friday afternoon and went home on Sunday. When in Manhattan, Miss Vandeveer stayed at the Plaza Hotel. After Art's sister Seena had made the arrangements, Art Deco Junior had telephoned the Plaza and arranged to meet Carrie at seven-thirty that evening on what turned out to be a beautiful and unseasonably warm Friday night in November.
Miss Vandeveer seemed happy to hear that Mr. Deco was in the lobby and told him to come to her room immediately. When he arrived at Room 710 and finally saw Carrie Vandeveer in person, and heard her familiar thick Southern accent, Art Deco was transformed into a hapless bowl of Jell-O.
Carrie Vandeveer was five-foot-two with big blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. Her haircut made her hair curve around her head. Junior thought it was the cutest haircut he had ever seen in his entire life. Carrie Vandeveer instantly became the love of Art Deco's life. His sister Seena was thrilled.
"I am so happy to meet you, Arthur," said Carrie Vandeveer, standing in the open doorway of her room.
"Please call me Art."
"Fine. I'll call you just plain Art," said Carrie. "You see, Arthur, I've been so excited about meeting you it's taken me forever to get ready. How do I look, Arthur? Could you please zip me up?" Carrie turned her back and Art Deco zipped up her dress.
Art hated to be called Arthur. Everyone called his father Arthur. But when Carrie Vandeveer called Art Arthur, it sounded wonderful.
During dinner at Lusardi's on Second Avenue, Art had an idea.
"Would you mind coming to my apartment?" he asked. "I promise you on my word of honor, on my mother's life, and I love my mother, that I won't do anything bad. I mean, ungentlemanly. It's just such a nice clear night and the view of the city from my terrace, especially the George Washington Bridge, is beautiful. What do you think?"
Art talked very fast. He was almost out of breath when he finished.
Carrie Vandeveer laughed and said, "But Arthur, what if we do do something bad? Do you think your mother will be in danger?"
Junior was confused until Carrie said, "I'm teasing you. Let's go."
The pair stood on Art's terrace and looked at the George Washington Bridge off in the distance.
Carrie said, "It really is beautiful, Arthur."
"It is, isn't it?"
And then Carrie Vandeveer put her arms around Art Deco's neck and kissed him on his lips. For a long time.
Art pulled the young girl off the terrace and into his bedroom, where they made love for three days and nights, with breaks for meals, naps, and sleep. Once a day they'd go to the Plaza Hotel to grab a change of clothes for Carrie and gather up any messages from home she might have had.
Art Deco couldn't remember ever being so happy.
Carrie Vandeveer and Art Deco never missed a weekend. They seldom went out with friends. They ordered in most of the time and rarely left Art's bed from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, except to look for an apartment for Carrie. After a month Art Deco proposed marriage to Carrie Vandeveer.
"Unfortunately," she said, "you'll have to speak to Daddy."
"Yes," said Carrie. "I've been told Daddy's one tough cookie."
The New York Athletic Club was where Junior invited Judge Taylor Vandeveer to lunch to ask permission to marry the judge's youngest daughter. The father of the four pretty Vandeveer daughters was one of the justices of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina.
Judge Vandeveer had been a former All-American lineman for the University of South Carolina's football team, a former Rhodes Scholar, and a Special Forces Green Beret. Judge Vandeveer was a highly decorated Army major who returned from the Vietnam War with a permanent limp. He was often mentioned for the South Carolina Senate seat, and lately was a possibility for the United States Supreme Court. He was a Republican, a conservative, a constitutional constructionist, severe at times, but reported to be a fair man.
Judge Vandeveer entered the main lobby of the NYAC, his cane firmly planted on the marble floor, his gaze covering the huge lobby like a searchlight. Not knowing what an Arthur Deco Junior looked like, the searchlight continued to swivel back and forth. Junior approached and introduced himself. The judge said nothing. Just smiled. Smiling was something the judge rarely did. It looked it.
Art led Judge Vandeveer to the elevators, then to the dining room, then to the table that was reserved in his name. Junior cleared his throat and said, "Thank you for coming. I appreciate your taking the time from your busy schedule to have lunch with me."
The judge didn't reply.
That bothered Junior and made him stumble over his next sentence. "I...uh...I...I want...I would like to -- "
"I presume you want to talk about marrying my daughter Carrie. Is that correct?"
"How old are you?"
"Carrie just turned nineteen."
"Yes sir. I know, sir."
"She's very young."
"Yes sir. She is, sir."
There was a pause in the conversation while the two told the waiter what they wanted to eat. Art Deco didn't like either the tenor of the short conversation so far or the judge's tone of voice. He quickly concluded Judge Vandeveer would not give him permission to marry his daughter Carrie and immediately lost his appetite. But he ordered anyway.
When the waiter had gone, Judge Vandeveer continued. "What do you do, Deco?"
"Right now? I'm looking for a -- "
"What have you done before now?"
"I graduated Harvard Law School."
"I took a position with a law firm."
"Schatzberg, Downey, and Pels," said the judge.
"That's right, sir."
"But you left the firm, did you not?"
"Yes sir, I did."
"What do you intend to do with yourself now?"
"I'm not sure, sir."
"Not a good enough answer. What makes you think you cansupport my daughter, unemployed as you are and without any definiteplans for the future?"
"I have a substantial trust fund."
"A trust fund that is at the whim of your father. Is that correct?"
"Yes sir. How do you know, sir?"
"I have my sources. Actually, Deco, your trust funds and your future are of little concern to me. What is of great concern to me is my daughter's education. Carrie is very young, Deco. I want her to complete her medical education. She will soon be starting her freshman year at Columbia University. I would have preferred if my daughter had matriculated at my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, where I went to school, but my daughter has a mind of her own."
Junior thought of how Carrie persisted in calling him Arthur, not Art.
"I am not entirely unhappy that Carrie has chosen Columbia," said the judge. "They do have an excellent medical school, and many excellent hospitals to choose from here in the city. In any case, I will see to it that Carrie finishes her four years at Columbia, her four years of medical school and one year of internship in general surgery, and then at least six years of neurosurgical training. If Carrie wants to specialize in, say, endoscopic removal of brain tumors, she may opt to take a few more years within the specialty."
"That's...that could be sixteen years from now...sir."
"But couldn't we be married while she's stud -- "
"No. Out of the question. I do not want my daughter to be distracted by marital problems. I want her mind clear so that she can learn how to be a good surgeon."
Art Deco was devastated. He practically whispered, "Does she want -- "
"It doesn't matter what she wants, Mr. Deco. It only matters what I want. I want my daughter to be a doctor. That is something she has always wanted to be, and I have always wanted her to be. I will not have Carrie distracted from her objective. I want her to finish her residency before she even thinks about a man in her life. I have a suggestion, Deco."
"Forget about marrying my daughter. In fact, I will inform my daughter that you are off limits as far as she's concerned, until Carrie's finished her training."
Suddenly Art was angry. He gathered up his courage and said, "When your daughter is twenty-one, she can do whatever she wants, Judge Vandeveer."
"She most certainly can, Mr. Deco," said the judge, cold as ice, "but I very much doubt if she will defy her father."
Junior's short, happy life was over and lunch hadn't even been served.
Copyright © 2009 by Chuck Barris
Meet the Author
Chuck Barris is a former television show creator and producer, whose credits include The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Gong Show, and Treasure Hunt. He is the author of several books, including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (adapted into a major motion picture) and the New York Times bestselling novel You and Me, Babe. Chuck and his wife, Mary, live in Manhattan.
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Everything about WHO KILLED ARE DECO? was great - the characters, the plot, the style, everything! Can't wait to read more by Mr. Barris. The only very minor complaint I have is that if you are a fan of the original Perry Mason TV series, as I am, the answer to the question in the title will become obvious rather quickly. Still an excellent read!