RARA-AVIS: Scene of the Crime

Ned Fleming (ned@cjnetworks.com)
Sat, 08 May 1999 04:09:54 GMT I went to "Scene of the Crime," a conversation with Robert Ferrigno,
Rich Cohen, and James Ellroy, in Kansas City Wednesday night.

The setting itself had a kind of polytheistic funk to it. It was held in
a hundred-year-old Unitarian church chapel with stained glass windows of
the four authors of the gospels. In the lobby, Buddhist junk and
invitations to post-modern ("The Five Steps to Centeredness," "The
christ in Jesus and the christ in You") retreats covered the bulletin
board. A weekly $6 jazz concert was kicking up in the main "church"
room, I think it was. I caught a smoke outside beforehand, and chatted
with "Maurice" (his name-tag said) who described Unity Temple on the
Plaza as the progenitors of "practical Christianity." Yeah, right, I
thought. Any more practicality and the Christianity would up and vanish

The conversation started with Ferrigno, who I'd never heard of, with the
moderator asking him a few questions ("Is hardboiled fiction dead? Are
cat and recipe mysteries the future of the whole [mystery] genre?") His
answer: "Nah." He was more verbose than that, but that was his
bottom-line comment. He read excerpts from the first two chapters of his
newest book, _Heart Breaker_. Based on what he read, the book does
indeed sound interesting.

>From the Kansas City Star's pre-meeting article: "[Ferrigno] contrasts
his work with that of classical *noir* fiction. 'A reviewer for
*Playboy* called my stuff "sunshine noir" and I think that was very
perceptive,' he said.

'My turf is the evil that's done in bright, sunny climes by very
attractive, well-off, educated individuals. I sort of do the flip side
of Ellroy.'"

Ferrigno struck me as a thoughtful, intelligent man. I bought a copy of
his paperback _Dead Silent_, based on the cover's review blurbs and the
snappy encapsulation: "There are two people in Nick's hot tub. One is
Nick's wife. The other is his former best friend. They are very naked --
and very dead. Some of the cops think the killer is someone *very* close
to Nick. The others are sure the killer *is* Nick. Where's a good alibi
when you need one?"

Next, Rich Cohen. His book, _Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster
Dreams_, is a work of non-fiction. From the moderator's questions I
learned something I hadn't twigged before -- Murder Inc. was a tough
Jew-run outfit. Red Levine was an Orthodox hit man who refused to kill
on the Sabbath. Abe "Kid Twist" Reles got his name from the way he put
his arm around a victim and choked the life out of him.

Cohen of course read from his book. The text is snappy, anecdotal, and
well written. Much of the book is reconstructed from his father's and
his father's friends' (including the obnoxious motormouth Larry King's)
recollections. Cohen himself is a young (early thirties, I'd guess)
funny guy. Peppy. Articulate. Glib. He's a contributing editor to
"Rolling Stone" magazine. I bought a copy of the book, leafed through
it, and am looking forward to reading it. "To Ned -- Don't do like they
did! -- Rich Cohen" he inscribed. Don't worry, Rich, not a damn chance.

Finally, Ellroy. The moderator didn't interview him, he merely
introduced him. Zoom. Demon dog shtick with a bullet. Entertaining the
second go-round. He read/performed part one from the short story
"Tijuana, Mon Amour," which is included in _Crime Wave_, a collection of
short stories and non-fiction -- everything (I guess) he's written for
GQ magazine. It's a souped-up version, believe it or not, of his
Hush-Hush patter. It's an alliteration-soaked send-up of a frame of, go
figure, Frank Sinatra. Eggcellent. He wrote in my copy "To: Ned -- Doom
Driven! -- James Ellroy". Gee, thanks, Jim. At least that's what I think
he wrote, his script being so ragged it could be in cyrillic or the thai
alphabet. I asked him when his next book was coming out. He said 18
months. Dig it, hepcats.

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