Friday, February 18, 2011

Ellen Byerrum

Ellen Byerrum is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and a produced and published playwright. She holds a Virginia private investigator’s registration. A Colorado native, she lives in Virginia.

Her new novel is Shot Through Velvet: A Crime of Fashion Mystery.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When book deadlines crowd me, like right now, as I am supposed to be working on my next mystery, Death on Heels, I don’t have a lot of time to read books. And I don’t want to get too distracted from my work in progress. On the other hand, glossy magazines never fail to divert me, with their lovely shiny covers and dreamy full-page picture spreads. Mmmm, red carpet gowns! Ooooh, perfume

But I’ve also been re-reading my favorite short stories by Chandler.

The name is Chandler, Raymond Chandler. King of noir, crown prince of the quick-draw quip, the guy who sets you right down in the mean streets of sun-washed mid-century Los Angeles, where murder belongs. In the flickering neon, where all the women are heartbreakers or drudges and all the men are either noble (if a little run-down) knights errant, or brutal thugs. Chandler’s twisted morality plays stalk the harsh California sunlight, where you might be tempted to believe it bleaches out your secrets, and your sins.

When I read Chandler:

* I want to wear silky white dresses and tap dance on men’s hearts in my red high heels. Just for fun, you understand, just for practice, not for keeps.
* I want to sip martinis in midnight-lit bars on the beach, where a small band plays the blues, and all the musicians wear matching suits. And fedoras. Where the slinky singer wears slinky gowns and sings into a giant round microphone. With blood-red lips.
* I want to dine in a swank establishment where small lamps sit in the middle of each table, the waiter brings me a phone (a rotary!) when I simply must to take a call (from the cops? the killer? my agent?), and danger swirls around the room like a heady perfume. Oh, there’s that perfume thing again.
* I want to banter wittily with a worthy opponent, swatting the sparkling conversation back and forth like a tennis ball, instead of merely blogging and tweeting.

In the depths of winter, as we prepare for a wicked new storm, it is particularly appealing to read about the much warmer wickedness of Raymond Chandler’s California. Like the famous opening of Red Wind, where Chandler vividly evokes the Santa Ana wind sweeping in from the desert—and the meek little wives feeling the edge of the carving knife and studying their husbands’ necks. And anything can happen. Feel the heat? Feel the characters come alive? And drop dead, at regular intervals?

Beats a Washington DC snowstorm any day.
Visit Ellen Byerrum's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Ellen Byerrum's Crimes of Fashion mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue