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Guest Essay by Paul D. Marks

On May 31, Down & Out Books published Shamus Award-winning author Paul D. Marks' latest novel, The Blues Don't Care. I've invited Paul to contribute the following essay:

Time Tripping Back to the 1940s
by Paul D. Marks

I have a fascination for the 1940s. And, even though it’s before my time sometimes I think I must have been reincarnated from that era. There are several reasons. I like swing music. I like old black-and-white movies, especially film noir from the mid and later ’40s. The clothes are so cool, even men’s clothes, at least in the movies, trenchcoats and fedoras. Though here in Los Angeles I’m not sure how many men wore trenchcoats. But they did wear hats.

In The Blues Don’t Care, my mystery-thriller set in the 1940s on the Los Angeles home front during World War II, Bobby Saxon is a young man with two major goals in life. One of them is to get a gig playing piano with the house band at the famous Club Alabam on Central Avenue. If he gets the gig, he’ll be the only white person in the otherwise all-black band. But in order to get the gig he must also “play detective,” by trying to solve a murder that one of the band members is accused of, something he’s totally unprepared for in more ways than one.

Bobby is a young man in a time of turmoil, trying to figure out what it means to be a musician, a detective and even a man, as he’s so young and inexperienced. And he doesn’t have any great personal role models. So he turns to the movies and actors like Gene Autry, who’s mentioned in the novel, but in my “offscreen” character backstory also people like Errol Flynn (at least his heroic screen persona), Fred MacMurray and Roy Rogers.

And then there’s Bogey. Bobby is constantly comparing himself to Humphrey Bogart, at least the Bogart from the movies. At one point he goes to see The Maltese Falcon, hoping to catch some hints on how to be a detective from the movie. Also how to maybe even be a better man. He’s very much caught up in the times.

While trying to model himself after Bogart—even though the characters Bogey plays aren’t always squeaky clean, but always have a certain conviction and integrity—Bobby also turns to B movie cowboy Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code for guidance, which includes advice like: A cowboy—or in Bobby’s case simply someone who wants to be a good man—must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals, he must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas, he must help people in distress, and others. And though they may sound corny to some jaded ears today these codes do help Bobby learn what it means to be a man in that time.

As an ivory tickler, a piano player, Bobby also looks to up to musicians of the era. In the story he looks up to the fictional Booker Taylor, leader of the band at the Alabam. But he also looks up to various real-life musicians, even if they’re not necessarily mentioned in the story: Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Herb Jeffries, the Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie and more.

He also encounters several movie stars, bumping into Clark Gable at the Sunset Towers. Seeing Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) having lunch with his ex-wife Lupe Velez and also spying Veronica Lake. Bobby’s a bit star-struck and at one point is impressed to learn that Fred MacMurray owns the building the murder victim, Dietrich, lived in. In real life Fred MacMurray did own that building.

And Bobby’s obsessed with being stylish. Wanting to have the right look for a jazz musician. His clothes and car are very important to him. He drives an Oldsmobile Six. He babies it until something happens to it, which you’ll have to read the book to find out about. He also spends a lot of time picking out hats and ties, fedoras with different colored bands, and tailored suits. Being a sharp dresser is important in Bobby’s world.

We also get a glimpse of women’s fashions too via some of the women characters—hats and gloves and all the undergarments necessary to bring about the look that was popular at the time. The character of Margaret works in the May Company Department Store’s hats and gloves department. And we see how women had to do a lot of work to look the part. Especially during wartime shortages when they had to draw “stocking seams” on their legs. Style was super important.

Without wanting to indulge in spoilers, Bobby has a lot to overcome. Part of the process of that is finding role models in the society he lives in. Part of it is simply living the process day to day. Sometimes it’s not easy. Sometimes you end up with a black eye, or worse. Just ask him.

So, if any of this appeals to you, if you want to go back in time, if you want to imagine yourself in a trenchcoat and fedora or wearing a bolero jacket with padded shoulders, gloves and hat, if you want to hang with jitterbugs and canaries and cut the rug and maybe even solve a murder while you’re at it, check into The Blues Don’t Care.


Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. His short stories have won numerous awards: "Windward" was included in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018 and won the Macavity Award. His story "Ghosts of Bunker Hill" was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Readers Award. Brendan DuBois, NY Times best-selling author, says Paul’s latest novel The Blues Don’t Care is “finely written” and “highly recommended”.


Paul D. Marks said…
Thanks for having me here, Gerald. It's been a blast!
Maggie King said…
I also love the 40s, the music, the fashion, the films. But I’m glad I don’t have to draw seams on my legs! The Blues Don’t Care is well-researched and an absolute page turner.
Paul D. Marks said…
Thank you, Maggie. It was definitely an interesting time. And glad you enjoyed the book.
I love historical fiction and mysteries set in past time are particularly fascinating.Wishing you much success with your fine work.
Paul D. Marks said…
Thank you, Jacqueline. If you pick up a copy of the book I hope you'll enjoy it.

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