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Always a Cold Deck

This is the first Harry Reese Mystery, and the first fiction I’d written since school. Needless to say, the manuscript required a great deal of work before it was presentable. If my wife hadn’t been an editor (and a very patient one), the production costs would have been prohibitive. That’s true of the rest of the books, but particularly true of this one.

Always a Cold Deck
I had three objectives in mind for the book (and each of the subsequent ones as well): it should be a satisfying mystery; it should be faithful to the period; and it should be humorous. I soon found this to be more difficult than I had expected.

I began hoping to include as much historical detail as possible, and sometimes I let interesting bits of research entice me to stray from the plot. The first part of the book centers on a fire at the Eastern Elevator Company in late July 1900. This was a real company and the fire did take place as depicted. That was the story that first caught my eye. Some of the shadiness depicted is also based on truth—it had defaulted on the mortgage, and there had been a stock scandal involving manipulation of its share price. Though much research went into the depiction of Buffalo, its buildings, entertainment of the time, transportation, etc., I gradually learned to keep the overt references—like the visit to Dr. Linn’s Museum—to a minimum. That meant a lot of the research was left unused for the good of the mystery. Once the idea of smuggling comes in, the story is almost purely fiction.

Harry is meant to be a sort of everyman. He has no outstanding talents or eccentricities, but he is reasonably intelligent and seems never to lose his sense of humor. The introduction of a love interest was always in the back of my mind, but once Emmie entered the book she took on a life of her own. With hindsight, it’s obvious she was the essential element, and later I went back and trimmed the opening chapters so her appearance came all the sooner.

One minor part of the book, but which I look back on fondly, occurs when Harry and Emmie visit a concert saloon:

Just about then a piano player got going. He sang along with himself. Not well, perhaps, but one could understand the lyrics of each song and that struck me as rather novel for a concert saloon. These were the usual tunes one would hear in any parlor, but the artiste had taken certain liberties with the lyrics. In his version of the old standard She Loved Not Wisely, But Too Well, “she” also did it quite often.

That piano players would take liberties with lyrics was my conjecture—an educated guess based on the fact that those of published music were absurdly tame, and yet there were an infinite number of rowdy places of entertainment. Later, I found confirmation of this in Mark Sullivan’s  Our Times.

In some ways, this was the most enjoyable book to write. My expectations were modest and my enthusiasm unchecked by subsequent disappointments. And though I didn’t feel completely satisfied with the finished product, I did take a great deal of pride in having completed it.

There’s more on Always a Cold Deck, including its availability, at the Harry Reese Mysteries site.

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