The romance boom has ended, and the women who made fortunes writing bodice-rippers are now scribbling mysteries instead. When the genre’s “true” authors fight back, a battle breaks out in every high-class gin joint in Manhattan. It is take-no-prisoners fighting, and Patience McKenna is caught in the middle. This ex-romance author has just turned to true crime writing when Sarah English comes to visit. A would-be romance writer from the Great Plains, English is dowdy, wide-eyed, and naïve—but she is about to toughen up. When a fading romance writer gets pushed in front of a subway train, English is among the suspects. To prove her new friend innocent, McKenna will need the skills gleaned in both her literary genres.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Death's Savage Passion
A Patience McKenna Mystery
By Jane Haddam
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Orania Papazoglou
All rights reserved.
EVERYBODY WHO COMES TO New York from somewhere else and does reasonably well at something nobody has any right to expect to do reasonably well at wants to show off. Some people are very, very successful and very, very lucky and get to do their showing off in print. They appear in People and Us and Parade, telling the world why they love Paris and how the fried oysters at Orsini's make a yearly trip to Rome a must. The people back home—the adolescent love object whose scorn destroyed an ego for a decade, the supercilious Latin teacher with dire predictions of ditch-digging at the end of the educational amnesty, the thin girl in Villager skirt and sweater sets who thought pudgy old Maria too boring to bother with—receive their comeuppance in photo bleed. Ms. Really Famous smiles for the photographer and imagines the oh-so-superior Sheree Singer, head cheerleader and Most Popular Girl of the Glen Oaks Senior High School Class of '69, stuffing the latest copy of Cosmopolitan into the ride seat of the wire grocery cart between Junior's reeking diapers and her own ballooning stomach. Ms. Really Famous has nothing to worry about. The Sheree Singers of this world always end up pushing reeking babies around in wire grocery carts.
The rest of us have to work a little longer, try a little harder, or give up and declare a truce. I thought I'd declared a truce long ago. The girls who were my enemies at Emma Willard were now, like me, women in their thirties. With the exception of a Rockefeller cousin who married an English duke and a Pillsbury relative with a large private income and a penchant for opening campy boutiques, they were proper Manhattan matrons with administrative jobs in Wall Street law firms and husbands in brokerage houses. They envied me my height (six feet), my weight (125 pounds) and sometimes my hair (very long, very thick, very blond). They expected me to envy their lives. I didn't, but I didn't tell them that. If I ran into them in Saks, I smiled and nodded and said how wonderful it must be to be settled. I intended to be settled in the year 2000, just in time for the coming of the third millennium.
Maybe if I'd had what most Americans call a normal adolescence—small town or moderate-income suburb, coed public high school, four years at the state university—I would never have gotten involved with Sarah English. Maybe I would have been like Phoebe, my old Greyson College roommate and now the world's bestselling author of very, very sexy (almost rude) historical romances. Phoebe changed her name from Weiss to Damereaux, established an affinity for floor-length velvet caftans and multiple strands of rope diamonds, and smiled very determinedly at the cameras. She was content with her press notices. When she went back to Union City, she took long, slow walks to the corner liquor store and waved at all the girls who thought she was fat and impossible in the eleventh grade.
I did not have Union City to fall back on. When things started going too well—when I found myself with a great apartment in a city where apartments had become extinct, when my book was doing well in a market so bad most people were having difficulty getting published, when I woke up every morning next to a good man at a time all the good ones were taken—I had no one to show off to. My friends from school thought writing was "irregular," not exciting. Someone with my "connections" was supposed to get married and get serious about raising money for the American Cancer Society. I needed someone like Sarah English. I needed the hero worship. I needed the flattery. Most of all, I needed confirmation that I was living an unusual and enviable life. God only knows why.
Unfortunately, at the time I received Sarah's first letter (and her manuscript), I wasn't in the habit of being honest with myself. Even after I had given her battered Xerox to my agent, even after my agent had sold the book to Austin, Stoddard & Trapp, even as Sarah was getting off the 4:15 from New Haven, I still thought I was only trying to help. This is how much I was trying to help: Sarah was coming in from Holbrook, Connecticut, to deliver her contracts to Caroline Dooley at AST. I offered her a place to sleep in my apartment (since I have no furniture, I offered a sleeping bag and the floor). I called every romance writer I knew (and I knew them all) and arranged a dinner at Bogie's. I went down to Putumayo and spent $110 on a fuzzy rose and white cardigan to wear with my charcoal gray Ralph Lauren box pleat ("Skidmore") skirt. Even Nick thought I was being excessive.
Phoebe thought I was being ridiculous. Dinner at Bogie's was both sense and nonsense. It was sense because Bogie's was the Elaine's of mystery writing, and Sarah's novel was a romantic suspense ("in the tradition of Mary Stewart," as she said, three times [each] in both her letter to me and her cover letter to the manuscript). It was nonsense because mystery writers are not very happy about romance writers. Mystery writers have a Cause. They write Literature, whether anybody understands that or not. Of course, anybody can join the Mystery Writers of America as an affiliate—MWA's word for a fan—and a number of mystery writers spent the mystery lull and romance boom grinding out pseudonymous "contemporary love stories" for the category lines, but that didn't make relations any easier. A hard-boiled private eye writer named Max Brady (five two, 130, horn-rims) once got into a fistfight with a romance writer named Verna Train outside the Hotel Pierre, either accidentally or deliberately witnessed by two reporters from the Post and a camera crew from "The CBS Evening News." Verna won, but that hardly settled the argument.
By the time Sarah arrived in New York, relations between romance writers and mystery writers had disintegrated into a near-open declaration of war. The romance boom was over. The mystery boom was on. Romance lines were looking at 45 percent returns, then 65 percent returns. Simon and Schuster sold Silhouette to Harlequin. Editors made cautious suggestions that the market might—just might—be glutted. The real romance stars—people like Phoebe, and Amelia Samson, and rape-and-ravage-bodice-ripper Lydia Wentward—were eased to hardcover and "midlist." A few hundred bad romance writers started turning out bad mystery novels—sometimes not so bad as the bad mystery novels turned out by bad mystery writers, which meant a lot of bad mystery writers were bumped out of the genre. What was worse, they were bumped by romantic suspense, a bastard genre, a female perversion, a she-serpent in the male Eden created fifty years ago by Chandler and Hammett. Good mystery writers spent a lot of time at the bar in Bogie's, lamenting the New York Times Book Review's lack of seriousness when reviewing crime fiction and suggesting various baroque methods for doing away with whoever had had the bright idea of rereleasing M. M. Kaye's pre-Far Pavilions sentimentalized claptrap.
Under the circumstances, it might have been smarter to make reservations for neutral territory, but I couldn't do it. Sarah English had written a romantic suspense novel because she liked romantic suspense novels and hadn't been able to find enough of them. She was right on the money. I saw no reason to pick up the tab for cocktails at the Palm Court and pretend the dying aristocracy would last. I wanted Sarah to see and be seen where it would matter. Besides, I wasn't writing romances myself anymore. I was doing true crime (my book on the Agenworth murder, just released, was a weak number fourteen on the Times bestseller list). I had an active membership in the MWA, a number of friendly acquaintances among the advocates of classic whodunits, and a growing relationship with Bogie's owners, Billy and Karen Palmer. Also, Bogie's serves very satisfying amounts of very good food at very good prices. Romance writer restaurants serve decorative amounts of suspicious food at ridiculous prices. Bogie's was perfect.
Bogie's was even more perfect after I finally saw Sarah English, New Author Extraordinaire. Sarah English was everything a New Yorker could ask for in a small-town hick come to the big city. She was peculiarly out of shape. After a few years in Manhattan most women either let themselves go entirely or develop unnatural relationships with Jane Fonda's Workout Tape. Sarah English had done neither. She was thinner than she should have been for her height—eighty pounds on a five-foot frame—but she was soft, almost liquid, lumpy. She was actually wearing lime green polyester and plastic patent leather bow-ribboned shoes. She had her sandy blond hair tortured into a flip.
Phoebe squinted across the Grand Concourse of Grand Central Station—we were meeting Sarah "under the clock"—and nearly fainted dead away.
"Good God," she said. "You can't take that into Bogie's."
"Of course I can take her into Bogie's," I said. "Billy and Karen aren't prejudiced."
"I'm not talking about Billy and Karen." She got her pearl-handled lorgnette out of her blue velvet string bag and peered into the middle distance like a society woman in a Marx Brothers movie. She shook her head. "Maybe it's the wrong person," she said. "Maybe—"
"She looks just like she sounds on the phone."
She behaved just the way she sounded on the phone. Halfway across the concourse she stopped, stared at the clock over the information booth, and rubbed the top of her left foot against the stocking on her right leg. She bit her lip. She fumbled in her handbag (imitation patent leather, lime green) and came up with a card.
"Maybe I ought to go get her," I said.
Phoebe held me back. "This is the biggest indoor clock in the Western world," she said, "and if that woman can't see it—"
Sarah English had seen it. She had seen us, too. She let her face be taken over by an open-lipped smile (gap between her front teeth, gold filling in her right incisor), and started hurrying toward us. She stopped a foot and a half away.
"Oh," she said. "Oh, you look just like I wanted you to."
Phoebe (Weiss) Damereaux has no patience for fools, liars, or idiots, but she is a kindhearted woman. She could no more have looked on Sarah English with indifference than she could have left a wounded cat in the road. Sarah English was so eager, so naive, and so very, painfully plain. I looked at her and knew she had spent the past thirty-five years in cramped, badly painted apartments, slowly turning into the town old maid. Sarah English was one of those not quite middle-aged ladies to whom nothing had ever happened and nothing ever would—except something had. We had happened to her. New York had happened to her. Austin, Stoddard & Trapp had happened to her. She was ugly and pitiable and under any other circumstances would have been impossible to bear. These were not, however, other circumstances. This was a success story.
Phoebe grabbed Sarah English's hand and pumped it, hard.
"I'm Phoebe Damereaux," she said. "This is—"
"Oh, I know," Sarah English said. "This is Patience Campbell McKenna." She said "Patience Campbell McKenna" the way devout Roman Catholics say "Blessed Virgin Mary." I blushed. I hadn't blushed since I was six.
"McKenna," I said finally. "Everybody just calls me McKenna."
"I call you Patience," Phoebe said.
"Only when you're drunk," I said.
Sarah English obviously thought this was the way New York women talked. She was delighted.
"I've read all about both of you in the papers," she said. "About how Miss McKenna solves murders and Miss Damereaux sells so many books and has such an unusual apartment, and of course pictures of Mr. Carras—he's so good-looking—and of course I modeled my heroine on you, Miss McKenna—"
I closed my eyes. It was beginning to occur to me just what I'd been after when I invited Sarah English to New York. It's not a terrible thing to want admiration, but enough is enough. Sarah's blind worship was making me uncomfortable.
"Just McKenna," I told her. "Not Miss McKenna, just McKenna. Or Pay. It comes of having spent my early life in girls' schools. Also, it's getting to be rush hour, and if we intend to get up to my apartment and then down to Bogie's by seven—"
Phoebe shot me a look that said she knew exactly what I was thinking and why. She put an arm around Sarah's shoulders and patted her comfortingly.
"Patience is right," she said. "If we want to get a cab—"
"Oh, I want to get a cab," Sarah English said. "I've been dying to ride in a real New York cab."
The look Phoebe gave me this time was murderous. Three days with Sarah English might be wonderful or awful, but it was certainly going to be a responsibility. I had an almost irresistible urge to tell the woman that the garbagemen were making forty thousand a year and hankering to strike for more, that the streets hadn't been cleaned since June, that the mugging rate was down but the burglary rate up—anything to tone down her conviction that Madison Avenue was paved with platinum and fairy dust—not angel dust—grew every Christmas on the tree in Rockefeller Center. I would have had to shut her up first.
"I just kept sending that manuscript and sending that manuscript," she was saying. "I sent it to all the publishing houses and all the agents in the Writer's Market and all the writers I'd ever heard of, mystery writers and romance writers and everyone, and of course I was afraid to send it to Miss McKenna, Miss McKenna is a detective, not just a writer, but in the end there was nothing else to do, and—"
"There's a cab stand right out front," Phoebe said. "We'll go up to the West Side and then—"
I never did find out what we were going to do "then." Sarah English couldn't stop talking. She talked all the way out to Forty-second Street. She talked while we were getting into the cab. She was still talking thirty odd streets later, when we got out of it. She talked while I was hauling her brown plastic suitcase onto the sidewalk.
When she went back to give the cabbie a little extra tip, she kissed him on the nose.CHAPTER 2
KAREN PALMER WAS STANDING in the doorway when we drove up to Bogie's in Sarah's second New York cab. She had her hands in her hair and her eyes on the sky, as if looking for rain. New Yorkers do a lot of this. I have never been able to figure out what for.
She saw me unfolding on the sidewalk (my legs are so long I am required to unfold from all cars except Checker cabs, stretch limousines, and Rolls-Royce Corniches) and came over to help.
"There you are," she said. "You can take care of it."
"Take care of what?" Sarah was shaking out the wrinkles in her lilac nylon date dress, shifting from one foot to the other on out-of-season lilac plastic sandals. I looked at her dubiously. It was mid-October. Bogie's is at Twenty-sixth and Eighth, not a bad neighborhood, but not a tourist neighborhood either. Sarah might as well have had a neon sign saying "Out-of-Towner" bolted to her forehead. I half expected a souvenir hustler, radar always on the alert, to beam himself down from Forty-second Street and clobber her over the head with an "I Love New York" bumper sticker. If she hadn't looked so happy, I would have clobbered her myself.
Karen Palmer looked worried.
"Max Brady is at the bar," she said. "Your friend Verna is in a corner. They can see each other through the archway."
"Oh, shit," I said.
"Max Brady is getting plastered," Karen Palmer said.
Sarah English looked at us brightly. The "shit" that would have been an insult from her local newsboy was a mark of sophistication in New York. She stared at Karen Palmer, fascinated. Karen was in an ordinary pair of jeans and doing nothing particularly unusual, but that didn't stop Sarah. Karen has a Lauren Bacall voice. That might have explained it. I mentally gave the problem of Sarah English to Phoebe and tried to concentrate on something I could understand. Max Brady getting plastered a hundred feet from Verna Train, and the ramifications thereof, I could understand.
I just didn't like it.
"I think it's under control," Karen said. "He's with DeAndrea, and DeAndrea doesn't drink."
"Billy should be able to take care of Max Brady," I said.
We both looked toward the door, contemplating Billy with an armlock on Max Brady. Max Brady being Max Brady, Tweety Pie could have got an armlock on him.
Excerpted from Death's Savage Passion by Jane Haddam. Copyright © 1986 Orania Papazoglou. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.