Maggie Lyon: Another Interesting Woman

Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Murdered Justice has been out for over a month, and I’ve been enjoying the feedback from friends and readers who’ve reached out to me. Investigative journalist Maggie Lyon is the star of the show in spite of the fact that the murdered justice she’s investigating was the longest serving justice on the United States Supreme Court.

One of the things I seem to hear most is that “Maggie is so relatable.” While I might not be actually hearing this comment the most, it’s the one I remember above all others because I hoped people would like her in the same way you hope all your old friends like your new friend when they finally meet. Fingers crossed that everyone gets along.

Maggie is likable as well as relatable. She’s obviously ambitious and she possesses a certain amount of strength, but in the pages of Murdered Justice, she reveals her vulnerability. She wants to “get it right,” but her success doesn’t come without setbacks, putting her foot wrong and second-guessing her theories. She’s also a bit naïve while simultaneously cynical about other matters. Toward the end of the book, you’ll discover that she’s both fierce and resourceful when forced to come out fighting.

Someone asked me how I thought her up, but I can’t seem to recall a specific date or moment when she emerged in my mind. I had been considering writing in the mystery genre, and I knew I’d need a sleuth. Women are much more interesting to write about, so I knew my “detective” wouldn’t be a man.

We hear about the limited roles for women onscreen, and if you’ve ever discussed the imbalances of stage time with female comics, which I have, you wonder why that’s the case because in my experience women are more interesting, more entertaining, and they’re certainly funnier.

I was raised on television and I love film. Looking through my personal list of favorites, there are way more women featured than men. When comparing male and female detectives, The Thin Man series comes to mind. Nick Charles portrays a day-drinking, funny detective who was written and directed as the hero, but it’s his wife Nora, portrayed by Myrna Loy, who has the best retorts, the wardrobe, the money, the emotional depth, and the best backstory. William Powell has some good moments throughout the series, but my attention always goes to Loy while left wondering, “How did HE manage to get HER?”

I’d rather see a verbal confrontation in those final scenes of The Women rather than explosions, special effects and physical brawls in action films. I much prefer Dame Maggie Smith putting someone down as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey or Tracey Ullman imitating Maggie Smith to an action hero blowing up a building or a male comic discussing his bathroom habits.

Perhaps society still allows women more freedom of expression than men, which results in more interesting characters, but there should never be limited opportunities or roles for women. While I may never understand my personal preference for women on stage, on film and in books, I’m happy to have created Maggie Lyon, and I hope to bring more of her adventures to the readers who have discovered her and have decided they like her.

Watch the book trailer for Murdered Justice, which has been published by W&B Publishers, and is available through them, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers everywhere.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Murdered Justice: A sneak-peak

Murdered Justice has been released since my last post. I’ve been getting some wonderful messages from people telling me they’ve gotten the book and are enjoying it. For them, this post may seem like a rerun, but for everyone else, I’m hoping you’ll become as excited as I am about Maggie Lyon and her investigation into the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia.

Maggie Lyon has been dying to uncover a national scandal, but she’s been typecast as a food writer longer than she would have liked. In Maggie’s words:

New restaurants live in fear of my visits, but those who’ve earned my praise roll out the red carpet when I sweep through. I admit it’s a glamorous life, and it beats covering hurricanes, floods and terrorism. I might have been doing my job with the nagging desire to uncover a sinister plot, but at least I was dining in fabulous restaurants all over the country on someone else’s dime.

Once my newspaper column became syndicated, I was getting calls for Chicago, New York, Seattle, Miami and California wine country. I was becoming a regular guest on travel shows, televised cooking competitions and Food Network episodes.

My agent Rina Akin informed me of an interesting opportunity having to do with a young British chef on the rise. She put me in touch with the person who identified himself as the American publicist, and the young chef was to be cooking in a private home in one of the exclusive Los Angeles neighborhoods. They were hoping for a profile piece, which would include descriptions of his food by someone with expertise to help launch his career over here. Would I be willing to join the party? It would mean staying the weekend in a seven-bedroom mansion in Fairmont Place, Los Angeles’s oldest gated community.

I agreed at once without considering the fee. I was familiar with the exteriors of homes in Radnor Square from research I’d done while writing about some of the restaurants on Larchmont Blvd. To have the opportunity to spend a weekend in a mansion where the food held some promise was particularly appealing. That I didn’t have to rent a car and only had to show up for meals while dressing the part was even better…

It was April, and the night was cool, so I had a light wrap, which the young man took from me as I walked west into a living room the size of a grand hotel lobby. There were sofas and occasional tables all around, a silent Steinway in the furthest corner, and a portable bar where another waiter was pouring Veuve Clicquot into coupe glasses for the guests who’d arrived before me…

There was no sign of a host or hostess for quite a while as I introduced myself to another guest and tried to break the awkward silence…

There was a bit of commotion in the foyer, and in a flash of color our Angeleno hosts materialized before us. Carlos Ortiz was a very handsome man, but short, and made to look even shorter when standing next to his domestic partner Rae Sartain, Miss Alabama 1990-something… I recognized Carlos, as I had lived in Texas long enough to know about the energy business…

While we waited on the final guest to arrive, Rae got our attention. “You gals come with me! We got some time and I wanna show you ’round since you’re gonna be stayin’ with us for a while.” We gals exchanged glances and followed her. “We’ll start with the cute little room down the hall with all the books!” She was either describing a library or a storage closet.

It was a library, but it was no longer as the original owners of the house had intended. The mahogany paneling had been tampered with unsuccessfully, and the leather-bound volumes of an earlier age had been replaced with best sellers, celebrity biographies and unsold copies of Rae’s book about beauty pageants. The area above the fireplace, which had surely held an expensive oil painting or a portrait at one time, was taken up by a wide-screen television, and if there had ever been leather club chairs left to develop a marvelous patina, the room was now filled with modern recliners from some orthopedic store…

“When you shut these doors, you can’t hear a thing. It makes the perfect room to take a moment away from all the hustle and bustle just to sit and read. I do it every time one of my magazines comes in the mail…”

With the library doors closed, we’d not heard the bell, so a nervous man in an ill-fitting suit appeared and informed us that the final guest had arrived and dinner was being served as soon as we could meet the gentlemen in the foyer…

Was that who I thought it was? …Justice Vittorio Scarpia of the United States Supreme Court took his seat across from Carlos. We were in august company. I don’t think my agent had any indication I’d be dining with someone so elite…

“Justice,” said Carlos. “I was telling the group before you arrived that I’ll be launching a new energy campaign in October. We have the summer to iron out the kinks, and we’ll be fine-tuning marketing strategies by Labor Day.”

Justice Scarpia had no interest in renewable energy. He’d already ruled in favor of oil companies and corporations, and he knew who’d placed him on the bench even if that old politician was long gone from Washington and younger party members had no memory of him. He nodded and took turns chewing and drinking wine.

“Justice,” said Carlos, “I’d like to get your opinion about the Abilene Controversy working its way through the courts.”

“Mr. Ortiz!” the Justice shouted. He then lowered his voice, but it remained strong. “Surely you did not extend your hospitality to me so that I might provide you with opinions on matters, which may or may not reach the highest court in the land and have some bearing on how you proceed with your business. I don’t give a damn about windmills and all this talk of harnessing the sun… I suggest you change the subject and stop dominating this table… Even the lawyers who argue before me stop for breath occasionally, and certainly more frequently than you have done tonight. It’s been a long day, and if we don’t talk about something other than you and your business, I’m afraid I’ll have to retire for the evening.”

To read more, Murdered Justice is published by W&B Publishers, and is available through them, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers everywhere.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Meet Justice Vittorio Scarpia

img_6848

“Murdered Justice” coming from W&B Publishers in March 2017

I’m delighted that Murdered Justice is being released while our eyes are drawn to the confirmation hearings of the high court’s latest nominee. I’m not letting the cat out of the bag by telling you that United States Supreme Court Justice Vittorio Scarpia falls prey to a murderer in the early part of my latest book, but the current hearings remind us how differently candidates are publicly scrutinized compared to the era when the fictional Scarpia was confirmed.

So little is known about the personal lives of SCOTUS justices, especially decades after their appointments and subsequent confirmations. At one time, we might have known something about Vittorio Scarpia’s five children and his wife Angela, but at his death, his family had been out of the public spotlight for over 30 years if they’d ever been in it in the first place.

Confirmation hearings in our politically contentious modern age require spouses and families to stand next to presidential nominees to the high court and appear wholesome and normal while their images are broadcast across all media. They must provide a picture of a loving, competent family that seems to have been transported from an earlier time while the candidate appears impartial and not too eager to sound off on issues that indicate activism in any particular direction on the political scale. Former students and clerks will emerge to accuse or defend prior statements and experiences, and previous rulings will be downplayed or highlighted by whichever senators feel strongly about a case’s subsequent effects.

Once they’re in place for life and a season or two passes into history, these robed scholars are dehumanized by that portion of American society, which categorizes SCOTUS rulings as Left or Right, as though they were filling in spreadsheets. Together, the justices are a ruling body, but separately no one considers that they eat, sleep and get dressed like everyone else.

Unless a justice dozes off during a State of the Union address and mentions having drunk too much wine at dinner, no one considers that such an esteemed person could be subject to human foibles. For a brief moment, we wonder if they have cell phones and take selfies with each other in chambers. On Monday mornings, do they chat about their weekends? Do they burst out laughing when the Chief Justice trips over a misplaced wastebasket when walking around his desk? Do they enjoy listening through the door as the Chief Justice berates the person who moved the wastebasket?

Our idea is that they are a humorless bunch of intellectuals unless we happen to see them on a news show when their latest book is profiled. A reporter might then be able to coax them into opening their refrigerator or telling us what book they’re reading “for fun,” and for a moment we find them relatable but never someone “you’d want to have a beer with.”

When the unexpected death of Justice Vittorio Scarpia is announced, we realize how much we never knew about the man. He wasn’t the type to let people into his private life. We are reminded that he was the longest serving member of the United States Supreme Court.

Appointed in 1979 at the age of forty-four, Scarpia was considered too young to serve. His nomination was controversial, not only because of his age, but due to the political climate of the times. Expected to make unbiased judgments, the opposition party believed the president was appointing an activist who would vote left of center on the issues of the day, but through a renewal with his commitment to the Catholic church and, some say, his devotion to secret societies within the Church, he surprised many court watchers over the next three-and-a-half decades with masterfully written dissents when his views differed from that of the majority. He was known for his quick wit, his legal acumen and his love of debate.

Murdered Justice is coming from W&B Publishers, and in its pages you’ll get a more personal look at Justice Scarpia and find out how he spent his last remaining hours.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

The Last We Saw of Bentley

Life has not always been tea parties with white Jacquard napkins from Belgium. (I’m referring to my previous post.) For instance, I used to live two doors down from a drug addict. This was no ordinary addict, for he had been (one assumed he was no longer) a classics professor at a local university. Even though we neighbors observed a litany of strange behavior, such as washing his dishes on the front porch and starting his car with a long screwdriver jabbed into the spot where the ignition key had once gone, he could still draw upon his impressive vocabulary and deliver phrases with the impact of a master thespian.

There were ten small apartments in two courtyards built in advance of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915, which had been acquired by a young man with an entrepreneurial spirit, but sorely lacking in business acumen. In need of an apartment, I stopped by when I saw a “For Rent” sign in the front yard. The landlord was there and happy to show me a unit, which he promised was identical to the one coming available at the end of the month, but which he couldn’t show me that day. I would be sharing the place with my best friend who came back to see it with me, and after we agreed, I wrote Devon the landlord a check for $900 as a deposit. In return, all I got was silence.

To be fair, Devon returned two phone calls that month, one of which was to say that we were going to be “the final threads woven into a beautiful tapestry of the Elm Court community.” I tend to become enthralled by descriptive sentences delivered so beautifully, but in this case my enthrallment skewed my perception skills. The second call of the month was a lie, saying that the apartment would be available on the first, as promised, and to make our plans accordingly. I forwarded the mail, arranged for the utilities and updated information with my employer. My roommate was to handle the move itself, and I left for work thinking I would have a new home that evening. Instead, I received a call in late afternoon to meet him at a hotel because the current occupant had not yet moved out.

I should add that this was during December, and each week we were given some excuse as to why the occupant had not moved, so we were technically homeless until the shyster Devon arranged for our temporary housing down the street. We finally moved into Elm Court on Valentine’s weekend, but not into the promised unit. While all but two of the ten units had been renovated in 1990s fashion, our unit, somewhat discounted in price, had had seemingly little done to it since 1915. The newest appliance was a 1950s General Electric refrigerator, which had been placed in what was once a kitchen entrance from the hallway. Energy efficiency hadn’t been a consideration when that thing was built. Cranked to its highest setting, ice-cream was still a cold sweet soup, and we had about two days to drink milk regardless of the expiration date.

Elm Court in the nineties. The front door straight on belonged to our problem neighbor until he was moved out under the cover of darkness.

Elm Court in the nineties. The front door straight on belonged to our problem neighbor until he was moved out under the cover of darkness.

Our courtyard of five units underwent a quick turnover that spring. The only unit to have its same occupant was the one we’d been promised. That’s where Bentley the drug fiend lived. Evidently, he was supposed to have been evicted and his apartment returned to immaculate condition in time for that December 1st move-in appointment. Devon had mishandled something—probably the entire eviction process—Bentley had refused to leave, and we had no choice but to accept the run-down consolation prize since Devon held us to our lease. Knowing what I know now, I would have fought to get our deposit back and run as far away from that con-man as I could get, but we didn’t know our rights, we were in a hurry to get moved in somewhere, and we were too tired to start searching again. Besides, we met a fabulous neighbor who remains a dear friend to this day. No! Not Bentley the dramatic drug fiend.

In April, most of our bath towels and washcloths were stolen. The apartment complex boasted a community laundry room, which I’ve come to realize was nothing to boast about. The good part was that they were not coin operated, which meant that you could separate your laundry without going broke. Whenever we washed clothes, most of us were good about setting timers and staying aware so that other people didn’t have to wait, but there was a sign posted over the machines that said a tenant had the right to remove laundry from the machines if they had finished their cycle and the owners had not yet come to claim them. The sign, however, did not say that the laundry could be removed to another tenant’s apartment!

I was using one dryer and another tenant was using the other. When I returned to get my towels, both dryers were empty and the doors were left swinging. I suspected where my good towels had gone since you’d have to be a thief or on drugs to not realize you’d taken someone else’s washing. I had to pass by Bentley’s apartment, which was between our place and the laundry room. I’d had no luck convincing him in December that perhaps he had received my Christmas packages by mistake since I’d forwarded our mail to his address. There were always noises coming from his unit, and I knew to have a confrontation about towels would likely bring about a good shanking so I went inside and fumed.

Since there were other notes posted over the machines from time to time, I thought the best course of action was to post a message saying that my towels had been taken and to please return them. The note went ignored for a month, but one evening I noticed a response in green ink:

“To whom it may concern, One should note that quite often laundry is indiscernible by color and texture, and perhaps a domestic, unaware of nuances and textile variations inadvertently mistook one load for another. Before assigning culpability or intent, one should make an honest attempt to learn the reasons why his laundry has gone missing. I genuinely hope you never accept the opportunity to serve on a jury.”

As I stated earlier, I can become enthralled by marvelous sentences—and for a drug addict these were marvelous sentences. However, this paragraph only riled me up. I got out my pen and wrote: “For all the time you have taken to write this, you could have gathered up all the laundry you now realize isn’t yours and delivered it back to its rightful owner!”

Within the hour, a rather haggard person who looked much older than his years, stood on my porch holding a well-worn grocery bag. “Sorry about that,” he said. “We just realized we picked up the wrong load.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “And be sure to tell Bentley that I’ve been waiting for over a month.”

I never spoke to Bentley again and certainly not after seeing him chase Devon down the street with that long screwdriver he used for starting his car. While Bentley was away overnight, Devon had rented a truck, hired some men and had moved Bentley out of the apartment without warning. We were told that Bentley was moving, which was apparently news to Bentley who must’ve wondered if he was tripping when he stepped out of his car and saw a crew of people overhauling an empty apartment.

Our morning coffee was interrupted by shouting in the distance. The volume increased and Devon sprinted by the window. Coming up behind him, we could hear someone with very good diction bellowing with all the strength of a diaphragm trained for stagecraft, “You had no right! You had no right to touch my things! My priceless things! My objet d’art!” As he disappeared out of sight, that was the last we ever saw of Bentley.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1