Los Angeles writer Cece Caruso is thrilled that her biography of the legendary Dashiell Hammett is headed for the big screen. Rafe Simic, the actor cast as the lead, may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the money she'll make tutoring him in the ABCs of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man should be good enough to feed Cece's addiction to vintage Yves St. Laurent.
But when the dead body of one of Rafe's old flames is discovered—and neither the "facts" nor the hunky star's alibi add up—Cece can't help but ask questions. However, the twists in this case would confound Sam Spade himself. And in her zeal to win justice for the deceased, Cece might end up pulling the plug on the movie—if someone doesn't pull the plug on Cece first.
About the Author
Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
Read an Excerpt
Shamus in the Green Room
By Susan Kandel
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Susan Kandel
All right reserved.
Playing it cool wasn't in my repertoire, but that didn't mean I couldn't fake it.
I leaned against my silver Camry, ran my fingers through my hair, and laughed insouciantly.
"You're kidding, right?" asked my best friend, Lael.
"Ooh," said my daughter, Annie. "You probably shouldn't have worn white."
I swatted at a bee while trying to remember the last time I'd gone to a car wash.
"Bees love perfume," yelled my second-best friend, Bridget, who was walking up the path toward my house. "And I can smell yours from here."
"Isn't this exciting?" asked my neighbor Lois, of no one in particular. "Don't lose your place in line, now," she chided her twin sister, Marlene, who was placing a can of cat food in the driveway for the local strays. The bees headed her way, favoring savory salmon over spicy Oriental notes. "It isn't every day that Cece has a gentleman caller."
My fiancé, Peter Gambino, glowered at her.
"For the last time, he's not a gentleman caller." I twisted around to brush the dust off my fur-trimmed wool pencil skirt (Pierre Balmain, 1959) -- which was ivory, not white, and hardly designed for such maneuvers. "It's business. He's hired me for the week."
"We've seen Pretty Woman," said Marlene in a hushed tone.
Oh, they were evil, my friends and family,of which there suddenly seemed to be far too many. I lifted up my Jackie O sunglasses and frowned at the lot of them, lined up so innocently on the front lawn of my house. Not for the first time was I struck by the morphological similarity between welcoming committees and firing squads. Poor man didn't know what he was in for.
"Cece needs a lint brush," said my son-in-law, Vincent.
Like they cared.
"Do I have time to change?" I wondered out loud.
Eight people consulted watches.
"It's one minute to ten," cautioned Hilda, my gardener Javier's thirteen-year-old niece.
Five people hoisted cameras.
"Promptness is the politesse of kings," said Lois, bending down to wipe some grime off her scuffed patent leather pump. I'd have gone for the stain on her dressing gown, which looked like motor oil.
Three people clutched autograph books.
"How about one of those cookies?" Bridget asked Lael, who slapped her outstretched hand.
Two women wiped lipstick off their teeth.
One little boy burped.
"Good job," said Vincent, his father, at the very same moment that Rafe Simic, world-famous movie star, he of the rippling biceps and laid-back attitude, pulled up in front of the house and hit a fire hydrant, sending a torrent of L.A. municipal water high up into the air.
"Water," said Alexander, enraptured.
"Actors," said Gambino under his breath. "Get a real job."
The flashbulbs went off as Rafe stepped out of something shiny, green, and foreign. Hitching up his jeans, which were riding low on his slim hips, he ambled around to inspect the front fender. Not even a scratch. He strode toward me through a shimmering scrim of water, like the Southern California born-and-bred Neptune he was.
I met him halfway.
Nothing fazes Cece Caruso.
"I've been meaning to get a new hydrant," I said.
He brushed a strand of blond hair out of his depthless blue eyes, which I barely even noticed. The smile I did notice. It moved slowly, like molasses.
"Hold on, you got something there." He plucked some oleander out of my long, brown hair and handed it to me.
Nothing good happens when you refuse a gift from the gods.
"I'll take that," said Annie, who had been in love with Rafe Simic since we'd moved to L.A. when she was still a little kid.
"Your sister?" Rafe asked, looking at me.
"Her daughter," said Annie, overenunciating each syllable. She tucked the blossom into the pocket of her overalls.
"I was a child bride," I explained.
"And now the matriarch of the clan," said Gambino, grabbing three-year-old Alexander from his father and wielding him as proof.
That wasn't aggressive. Not exactly.
"Peter Gambino," he said, tucking Alexander under his arm sideways and sticking out his hand. "LAPD."
That was aggressive.
Little Alexander freed himself and scrambled over to Annie. "Tummy hurts," he said, though it sounded like "twoots." He had a Jolly Rancher in his mouth.
"We're leaving, sweetheart," Annie replied. "Have a good time in San Francisco." She looked at me pointedly. "Oleander is poisonous, you know."
"Yes, dear," I responded, kissing her cheek.
Rafe posed for a picture with Annie before she left. From there, he worked his way down the line. He had a profound effect upon the womenfolk. Hilda's mouth was hanging so far open I could see the food stuck in her braces. My neighbors Lois and Marlene, former showgirls now in their dotage (and I do mean dotage), were openly salivating, having forgotten entirely about my virtue.
"I've been enjoying your biography of Dashiell Hammett," Rafe said to me once Lois released her death grip. "It's taking a while, though." He laughed self-consciously. "But there's lots of useful stuff."
"Useful is as useful does," said Marlene, who handed him her tattered autograph book. "I have Fanny Brice in there."
"When he was a Pinkerton detective," I interjected, "Hammett investigated Nicky Arnstein, Fanny Brice's husband. You know, from Funny Girl ?"
Rafe looked at me blankly.
"I'm really glad we're starting in San Francisco," I continued, undeterred. "You'll enjoy seeing the places I talk about in my book. The offices where Hammett worked his cases, the restaurants Sam Spade liked to eat at."
"I've been working with a nutritionist," he interrupted. "Her name is Siri."
"Well, Hammett was so thin."
"He suffered all his life from TB," I said.
"Oh. Maybe you don't know." Rafe wrinkled his brow. "I'm not a method actor. I know Hammett liked hash browns, but Siri recommends avoiding potatoes."
"Potatoes," said Lael, scoffing. "Boring. Sweets are the thing." She handed Rafe a freshly baked snickerdoodle.
Excerpted from Shamus in the Green Room by Susan Kandel Copyright © 2007 by Susan Kandel. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cece's first biography is being turned into a film. As she is coaching the star on Dashiel Hammett, he is distracted by a murder. What has Cece stumbled into this time? The characters and plot were great, with shades of a Dashiel Hammett story.
Mystery author biographer and noted fashion plate Cece Caruso is providing consulting services to the In the Green Room movie production company filming her work Dash! The star, Hollywood hunk Rafe Simic looks great as and would make a dashing Dashiell Hammett or for that matter Sam Spade, but the sexy actor refuses to read her book or any of the great late author¿s works as he prefers surfing the waves. To help Rafe taste the part, Cece agrees to escort him on a tour of Hammett¿s San Francisco.------ Not long after they arrive in San Francisco, the Los Angeles Coroner¿s Office asks Rafe to come home to identify a corpse of a woman who has his card on her. He says the deceased is his former girlfriend Maren Levander and sister of his best friend and manager. With Rafe a person of interest, Cece investigates what the police suspect is a homicide made to look like a suicide over the objection of fiancé, police detective Peter Gambino.----- Cece remains a refreshing protagonist who cherishes deceased mystery writers and cannot help but get involved in clearing up ambiguities in their lives (see I DREAMED I MARRIED PERRY MASON and NOT A GIRL DETECTIVE), and landing in a modern whodunit. On top of a fine amateur sleuth investigation, Cece has personal disputes with her adult daughter and Peter. When the author tosses in Hammett to a superb tale it leads to readers admiring Susan Kandel¿s amazing talent.------ Harriet Klausner