Welcome to literary New York! Dorothy Parker is the wisecracking sleuth in the humorous historical mystery You Might as Well Die, the second book in The Algonquin Round Table Mysteries.
When second-rate illustrator Ernie MacGuffin’s artistic works triple in value following his apparent suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge, Dorothy smells something fishy. Enlisting the help of magician and skeptic Harry Houdini, she goes to a séance held by MacGuffin’s mistress, where Ernie’s ghostly voice seems hauntingly real . . .
Susanne Alleyn: Delighted to meet you, Mrs. Parker! What year is it now for you, and why do you live where you do?
Dorothy Parker: It’s the Roaring 20s in New York City. Why do I live here, you ask? Where else would I live? Dubuque? I’m a New Yorker through and through. And not just New York, but Manhattan. I get a nosebleed if I travel above 80th Street.
I’m a writer, unfortunately. And if you want to make a living and get published in America at this time, New York is the place to do it.
SA: What do you love most about the time and place in which you live?
Dorothy: I’m not much for sentimentality, but nevertheless I’ll tell you this—what I love most about my life and times is my group of friends. Many people call us The Vicious Circle. (That should confirm for you what I meant about sentimentality.) Others call our group The Algonquin Round Table because, you know, we have lunch at the Algonquin Hotel at a round table every day. (Very original, don’t you think?) We’re a gang of smart-mouthed writers, editors and critics. And we do what all writers do—we try to get away with as little writing as possible, and we drink and talk and trade insults instead.
SA: What aspect of your world would you change, if you could?
Dorothy: I’d start by adding a few zeros to my bank balance, and then I’d just play the rest by ear. There’s a dozen newspapers published in this town, and who knows how many magazines? They’re great about printing the news, but not one of them can print a nice check.
Also, I’d like to change what people think of me. They know me as a wisecracker, saying things like, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Or “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” But I’m much more than a smart aleck. I write poetry, short stories and dramatic criticism—and some of it ain’t half bad, if I do say so myself.
(Editor’s note: The Portable Dorothy Parker, a collection of her best work, has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1944.)
SA: Most New Yorkers came from somewhere else. Where were you born?
Dorothy: Remember what I said about being a New Yorker through and through? Okay, I fibbed a little. I’m technically not a native New Yorker. I was actually born in the seaside town of Long Branch, New Jersey, while my family was on summer vacation in 1893. But, honestly, we came back into town right after Labor Day, so I nearly made the grade.
SA: When did you begin to solve mysteries?
Dorothy: In all honesty, I’m not preoccupied with solving mysteries. I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake… Well, I did find that dead drama critic under the Algonquin Round Table, who was stabbed through the heart with a fountain pen, and I had to help find out how he got there and who put him there. And now there’s a friend-of-a-friend who committed suicide under mysterious circumstances…
But my biggest mystery is always where to find the next cocktail.
SA: How is law and order maintained in New York in the Twenties?
Dorothy: Very poorly! Prohibition is on. There’s a speakeasy on every street and a flask in every back pocket. Bootleggers run rampant. (One almost knocked me over the other day!) Most of the cops are on the take. And gambling is a national pastime.
But, hey, ain’t we got fun!
SA: Tell me about your most recent investigation.
Dorothy: Right now, I’m trying to find out why a friend—well, no, not a friend, let’s call him a royal pain in the neck—decided to commit suicide. This guy was not some hand-wringing nervous wreck. Far from it. Ernie MacGuffin is—was—about the most self-assured, self-deluded second-rate artist in New York (and that’s saying something). Why would he take a nosedive off the Brooklyn Bridge? And then why would his “spirit” (notice the quotation marks) appear at a séance a week later?
Fortunately, I’ve made friends with Harry Houdini, who is not only a master magician but also a top-notch debunker of phony mediums. One way or the other, we’ll get to the bottom of what happened to MacGuffin.
SA: In the course of your investigations, who is the most interesting historical figure you’ve met so far, and why?
Dorothy: As I mentioned, I’m working with Harry Houdini right now. He’s gotten us out of a couple tight scrapes. But being in and around the Algonquin Hotel, I’ve met plenty of famous (and infamous) folks. Ever heard of William Faulkner, Douglas Fairbanks or Cole Porter? How about Paul Robeson or Edna Ferber? Oh, and there’s a fellow scribbler by the name of Ernest Hemingway. Keep an eye on him. I expect big things of him someday.
But perhaps the most important notable figure in my life is Woodrow Wilson—which is the name of my dog.
SA: If your cases were made into movies or a television series, which actor do you think would do the best job of portraying you?
Dorothy: Funny you should ask. Several actresses—my friend Ruth Gordon, for one—have portrayed characters that were fictional versions of me. It’s gotten to the point that if I wrote a screenplay about my own life, I’d be sued for plagiarism.
But who cares who would play me in a movie? I want to know who would play my love interest! I like the look of that Johnny Depp—the one in the pirate movies. Shiver me timbers, I’d walk his plank any day!
(Editor’s note: Readers can play this game, too. Vote here for which contemporary actress might play Dorothy Parker in a movie.)
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When not writing the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries, J.J. Murphy is an award-winning health care writer and very busy parent of twin daughters in suburban Philadelphia. Visit www.roundtablemysteries.com or www.facebook.com/RoundTableMysteries.
Historical Sleuth Interviews will appear around the middle and end of each month. Authors, if you’d like your historical sleuth to be interviewed here, please send Susanne a note with a little information about your books.
Susanne Alleyn is the author of the Aristide Ravel French Revolution Mysteries (The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, Palace of Justice, Game of Patience, and A Treasury of Regrets) and of A Far Better Rest, the reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities, all available in paper and eBook.