David Handler’s Stewart Hoag Mysteries

The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald is David Handler’s third Stewart Hoag mystery, this one set in the cut throat world of New York publishing back in the early 1990s. Hoagy has been hired to help write the memoir of a young literary star who can’t seem to produce a second novel (booze, cocaine, and women may have something to do with that—or maybe not). The young writer reminds Hoagy a bit too much of himself and his own tanked literary career, so it takes him a while to see what’s really going on.

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I enjoy Handler’s technique of telling part of the story through Hoagy’s taped interviews with his subject and others. Handler also enjoys sprinkling real people though the story, an immediacy which seems to work with the basic ghost writer premise. Whoever had the print version scanned for digital publication, however, should have read through the manuscript. The formatting is fine, but there are a lot of scan-induced typos. On the other hand, I’m delighted to have found a mystery series that I missed when it was published on paper.

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Hoagy’s next adventure is told in The Woman Who Fell From Grace, centered on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication and subsequent filming of an immensely popular Revolutionary War epic called Oh, Shenandoah (any resemblance to Gone With The Wind both intentional and amusing). The author’s daughter and heir is fronting the sequel, which Hoagy has been hired to ghost. No interview tapes in this one, but Hoagy tracks down everyone he can who remembers the movie set to discover the truth about the death of its star. With a blend of fictional and real movie folk (Errol Flynn, who was rumored to have been considered for the part of Rhett Butler, opposite Bette Davis!) and the eccentric family of the long-dead (and possibly murdered?) author, Hoagy opens more than one can of worms. (Yes, typos from scanning, just make allowances.)

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The Boy Who Never Grew Up takes Hoagy and Lulu (his eccentric and somewhat star struck basset hound) to Hollywood, to help a highly successful but socially inept director write his memoirs—that is, until people around him are murdered. Lulu takes a more active roll in this installment, helping to capture the killer. As usual, Handler sprinkles real characters of the early nineties through the Hollywood parties and events Hoagy and Lulu attend.

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The sixth entry in the series, The Man Who Cancelled Himself, is set in Manhattan, where Hoagy is attempting to ghost write a book with Lyle Hudnut, the star of a popular sitcom called featuring his popular (and possibly stolen) character Uncle Chubby. Hudnut’s moods change so fast that Hoagy can barely keep up. Between actors, writers, producers, and network reps, there’s no shortage of suspects when the murders start.

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The first eight books in this series were written in the 1990s, but Handler picked it up again in 2017 and has added (so far) three more. I’m reading them in order (not necessary, but there is a continuing subplot regarding Hoagy and his actress ex-wife) and enjoying them all.

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