The Paige Turner Mystery Series

A BLAST FROM THE PAST!

It is the middle of the gray flannel fifties. Ike and Mamie are in the White House, Mayor Wagner is in Gracie Mansion, and Senator Joe McCarthy is in commie-hating heaven. The Korean War has come to an ignominious end, and the battle to end school segregation has gotten off to a bleak beginning. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are busting bras to dominate the wide Technicolor screen, while Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are fighting for control of the small black and white screens at home. And struggling to stay afloat through it all—in a tiny, rundown apartment in the depths of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village—is a scrappy twenty-eight year old war widow with high hopes in her heart, and low-down murder on her mind.

As a full-time editorial assistant for Daring Detective magazine (with secret but very serious aspirations to become a staff writer and a mystery novelist), Paige Turner comes face to face with homicide every day. And as the bearer of a very laughable name (plus the fact that she’s the magazine’s only female employee), Paige also faces more than her fair share of scorn and ridicule. Nevertheless, she’s determined to prove herself, and her top-notch crime writing talents, to her cocky male coworkers, and to the male-managed publishing world in general. Even if she has to risk her life to do it...
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GATHERING THE EVIDENCE:

When I decided to set my Paige Turner mystery series in the 1950s, I began shopping on eBay, the online auction site, for mainstream magazines published during that decade. I wanted to get a true sense of the colors, sights, sounds, styles, attitudes, advertisements, beliefs, and idols of the day, and—having been in the magazine business myself—I knew popular periodicals would be the best source of such information. I bought old copies of The New Yorker, TV Guide, True Romances, Ladies’ Home Journal, Coronet, and Good Housekeeping, plus dozens of fan magazines and—natch!—detective magazines. I also bought a couple of old mail-order catalogs—Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward—which I knew would supply invaluable pictures and descriptions of clothes, furniture, appliances, tools, toys, and household goods of the period, as well as the exact (and unimaginably low!) price of each item.

Although I studied numerous 1950s newspapers (particularly The New York Times, which was available on microfilm in my library), and read a myriad of books about the fifties (most notably, David Halberstam’s The Fifties, and Dan Wakefield’s New York in the 50s), I’d have to say the popular magazines and catalogs of the era informed and inspired me the most. Likewise, my husband’s large and varied collection of books, comics, magazines, movie posters, and original comic art—much of which was published in the 50s. These pop culture products gave me a real feel for the fifties and, as you will see below, provided excellent visual models for Paige Turner and some of my other main characters.


CAST OF CHARACTERS:


Paige Turner

I chose the playful name and crime-writer occupation for my heroine/sleuth during the earliest stages of planning my historical mystery series, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to look like. Tall, short, plump, or skinny? A blonde, brunette, or a redhead? Stylish or shlumpy? I couldn’t make up my mind. But then this frayed and faded edition of The Ladies’ Home Journal (March, 1950) arrived in the mail, and the minute I saw the young woman on the cover, I felt that she was the real Paige Turner. Shy, sweet, smart, and sassy—all at the same time. A simple, practical working girl with a nose for news, a craving for justice, and the hidden inner strength of a daring and determined undercover detective. Heck, she was even wearing a trench coat! She was also wearing a red beret, which I saw as an outward symbol of her secretly fiery nature. So if you’ve ever read any of my Paige Turner mysteries and wondered how Paige came to be crowned with her signature red beret, please know that I got the idea from this mid-Twentieth Century edition of The Ladies’ Home Journal—not from Monica Lewinsky!


Dan Street

To find a good model for Detective Sergeant Dan Street, the leading man in my series (and Paige Turner’s life), I had to go no further than the lower level of my own house—into the hall leading from my husband Harry’s office/den to the basement. When Harry was a young aspiring cartoonist, he wrote to all his favorite comic strip artists asking for autographed drawings, and quite a few of those artists complied. Their drawings now hang—framed, well-lit, and well-loved—in the downstairs hall. I look at them every morning when I go into the basement to clean the kitty litter. (That’s too much information, I know, but what do you expect from a detail-obsessed mystery writer?) Anyway, one of those drawings—this portrait of the handsome white-haired detective hero of the comic strip Kerry Drake—has always held a special attraction for me. In his gray fedora, white shirt, striped tie, and tan trench coat (and smoking the ubiquitous cigarette), Kerry Drake was a true icon of the fifties. I wanted Dan Street to look just like him! Except for the white hair, that is. To suit my own personal tastes and turn-ons, I changed it to dark brown.


Abby Moscowitz

I modeled Paige’s best friend and next door neighbor, Abby Moscowitz, after another autographed drawing hanging in the downstairs hall. It’s a pen and ink portrait of a beautiful brunette character from the 1937-1971 newspaper comic strip Abby an’ Slats. I always liked this picture a lot, so when I was imagining what Paige’s free-wheeling, ultra-sexy best friend would look like, the drawing sprang immediately to mind. And when I enhanced this image with vivid technicolor visions of 1950s movie star Ava Gardner, I came up with a very clear mental picture of Abby Moscowitz’s stunning features: big brown eyes, high cheekbones, bright red lips, creamy complexion—all framed by a long thick mane of blue black hair. Abby would be a lusty bohemian, I decided, a freelance artist/illustrator who believed in freelance love. She would fall into bed with many men, while Paige would sleep with none (unless Dan Street’s burning attentions melted her resolve). And so the stage was set: Paige would be the excitable good girl, and Abby would be the breezy bad girl, and together they would take Manhattan by storm!


Jimmy Birmingham

One of my favorite characters, beatnik poet Jimmy Birmingham, didn’t make an appearance until the second book in the series. At first he was a prime murder suspect, and then a silly stereotype, and then he developed into something more: a brilliantly vapid philosopher with much to reveal and nothing to say. Knowing I wanted Jimmy to become a regular character in the series, I chose to make him one of Abby’s boyfriends—her most passionate and persistent lover. I decided he would be young, dark, and gorgeous—like the 1950s matinee idol, Tony Curtis—and also intense, vain, and infantile, like so many other self-proclaimed artists and poets of the day. I gave Jimmy a Vandyke beard, in true Greenwich Village style, and then I asked my husband to give him a voice—i.e., write the pompous, wacky, off-balance poems that would become Jimmy’s trademark. (Harry was really good at this, so I guess it just came naturally!)


Otto

Jimmy Birmingham has a little dog named Otto, and he carries the lovable miniature dachshund tucked under his arm wherever he goes—even onto the stage when he’s giving a poetry reading. I was prompted to feature a dog as a main character in my series after seeing this cover of the November, 1950 edition of Good Housekeeping. I was amused by the image of the little girl (all dressed-up in her 50s-style coat, hat, Mary Janes, and white gloves), but I was much more interested in the dachshund! He reminded me of a wonderful “wieny dog” I once knew, way back when I was a young girl living in Kansas City, Missouri. The pup belonged to my best friend and neighbor, Vicki Schumaker, and he was named—you guessed it—Otto. The real Otto was a full-size dachshund, like the one pictured on the Good Housekeeping cover, but I miniaturized him for fictional and poetical purposes (i.e., so Jimmy “The Cat With The Dog” Birmingham could easily carry him around!).



DARING DETECTIVE MAGAZINE:

When I determined that Paige Turner would work for a true crime publication, I gave the magazine the name Daring Detective. I chose this title for two reasons: First, because I thought it sounded sleazy and silly (like so many other pulp titles of the fifties), and second, because it could be read as a bold and goofy description of Paige herself. Oh yeah, there was another reason, too: I’m a sucker for alliteration! Anyway, once the words daring and detective popped into my head—linked together as though in handcuffs—my mind was made up. And my fictional periodical had what I thought was a clever, thoroughly original name. The key word here is thought, because several months after I settled on the title, Harry discovered this ancient magazine on eBay. And it’s the real deal—a tattered but authentic 1938 edition of a trashy true crime magazine called Daring Detective! So much for my clever originality. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun...


A BLAST FROM THE PAST! (complete series synopsis)

It is the middle of the gray flannel fifties. Ike and Mamie are in the White House, Mayor Wagner is in Gracie Mansion, and Senator Joe McCarthy is in commie-hating heaven. The Korean War has come to an ignominious end, and the battle to end school segregation has gotten off to a bleak beginning. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are busting bras to dominate the wide Technicolor screen, while Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Lucille Ball and Desie Arnaz are fighting for control of the small black and white screens at home. And struggling to stay afloat through it all—in a tiny, rundown apartment in the depths of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village—is a scrappy twenty-eight year old war widow with high hopes in her heart, and low-down murder on her mind.

As a full-time editorial assistant for Daring Detective magazine (with secret but very serious aspirations to become a staff writer and a mystery novelist), Paige Turner comes face to face with homicide every day. And as the bearer of a very laughable name (plus the fact that she’s the magazine’s only female employee), Paige also faces more than her fair share of scorn and ridicule. Nevertheless, she’s determined to prove herself, and her top-notch crime writing talents, to her cocky male coworkers, and to the male-managed publishing world in general. Even if she has to risk her life to do it...

Because of this urgent, single-minded resolve, Paige Turner repeatedly lives up to her name. She gets herself into one murderous mess after another—working on a deadly new story, searching for the gruesome truth, hunting down another heinous killer, and diving—headfirst—into more hot water than other young women of the fifties (prim, proper, passive young women) ever dreamed existed. Her dangerous adventures (and humorous misadventures) take Paige all over Manhattan—from Spanish Harlem to Sheridan Square; from the Copacabana and the Stork Club to Schrafft’s and the San Remo; from the Roxy Theater, to Whelan’s all-night drugstore, to the Margaret Sanger Clinic. And more often than she’d care to admit or remember, Paige comes close to arriving at her final destination—the city morgue.

Although she lives alone, and sleeps alone (Paige does her best to adhere to the strict sexual doctrines of the day), she is otherwise surrounded by an amusing and sometimes crazy cast of characters. Her best friend and next door neighbor—a beautiful, bawdy beatnik artist named Abby Moskowitz—offers strong alcoholic concoctions, wild conversation, and plenty of intimate advice. And Paige’s Daring Detective male “superiors”—chief Harvey Crockett, editorial director Brandon Pomeroy, staff writer Mike Davidson and art director Mario Caruso—are on hand at the office to tease her about her name, demand fresh coffee, boss her around like a galley slave, and generally make her life miserable. Art assistant Lenny Zimmerman (Paige’s only friend at the office), beatnik poet Jimmy Birmingham (Abby’s sometime live-in lover), and Jimmy’s adorable little dog (a miniature dachshund named Otto), provide companionship, occasional protection, and comic relief.

But Detective Sergeant Dan Street, a divorced Homicide cop and Daring Detective’s paid police consultant, is, perhaps, the most significant character in Paige’s life. He is tall, dark, strong, handsome, smart as a whip, brave as a bull, and determined to clip Paige’s investigative wings and keep her safe. Paige is wildly attracted to Dan, and her feelings for the sexy detective grow deeper and deeper as the series progresses, but—thanks to her relentless curiosity, reckless determination, and strenuous efforts to keep her risky exploits secret from Dan—the course of their relationship rarely runs smooth. Whether or not Paige will ever change her dangerous ways, or surrender to her growing physical desires—or, more importantly, stay alive long enough for her romance with Dan Street to be consummated—is the tantalizing, to-be-continued question.