Dandola's vast knowledge of vintage movie-making and the inner-workings of the Hollywood Studio System are things which have been savored by film buffs but his descriptions of World War II era small-town life in West Orange, New Jersey, have won both national and international praise. A part of that praise is that these mysteries are very well-drawn character studies not just whodunits.
Dead by Happenstance is the fifth in his 1940's West Orange mysteries which feature a sometime show-business bodyguard. That character is based on a very real person—the author's grandfather. Although some of the stories move to faraway places, there is always a West Orange anchor along with an appearance by Teddy Edison, the youngest son of Thomas Alva Edison. The Edison laboratory still sits on Main Street as a National Historic Site. In real life, Dandola's grandfather worked as a personal messenger boy to the great inventor and Teddy Edison, who followed in his father's footsteps, became a friend. It's such details which make readers unable to discern fact from fiction in a most enjoyable fashion. Perhaps Mystery Scene Magazine summed it up best: "Dandola presents Edison family history, small-town politics, and Tinsel Town gossip of the period and melds them seamlessly."
A subplot of this newest novel involves the protagonist's eleven-year-
"I had created the teenage girl in the previous novel so it was natural for her to recur in this one. She's based on someone very near and dear who, as a child, had a Lenni-Lenape arrowhead collection,"
That legend was prevalent up until the 1950's, after which it was gradually forgotten. As a child, Dandola heard about it from relatives and from a family friend who also happened to be the town historian. Just as with much of West Orange's history, Dandola is now the only one who still remembers.
"It's one of those stories which could actually be true," he admits, "although we'll never be sure due to the amount of landfill, concrete, and pavement which now prevents anyone from finding out."
Provable or not, it's that grasp of the local historic scheme which makes Dandola's novels ring so true to time and place.
Here is the novel's synopsis:
As the summer of 1943 begins, M.G.M. publicity chief Howard Dietz brokers a deal for Tony Del Plato to work again with Paramount Pictures. The job comes as a direct request from cinematographer Steve Hardin. Their assignment takes them to the Mayan ruins of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where Hardin is to film second-unit footage for a B-movie. All goes smoothly enough until the actors' stunt-doubles arrive and an inexplicable murder takes place. Once again helping to unravel the motive is Paramount actress Marjorie Reynolds, who had hoped for a vacation simply relaxing and spending time with Tony.
In a parallel story, Patty Drury, the high school girl and history buff who is minding Tony's son back home, helps prove a local legend to be true and earns herself a brush with fame—and crime.
There is a very long-standing tradition for novelists to celebrate and to become associated with a particular locale especially when that locale is as important as the characters in a story. Yet while no one other than Dandola has ever presented West Orange to the world in such a manner, praise for his writing only comes from outside the town's borders. West Orange, its public library, its local newspaper, and its two local internet "newspapers"
"I was alone in the room when I created my books. There wasn't a politician anywhere to be seen or deserving of any sort of credit," Dandola says. "I use the town as a backdrop because the very positive view of how West Orange once was deserves to be remembered. I have a stake in that because my family has lived here for 250-plus years. Politicians not only come and go but they have done a tremendous amount of harm to this town's reputation and to its physical appearance—things I take very personally. I won't trade favors with them just to get local public acknowledgement."
And yet not giving public acknowledgement to Dandola still hasn't stopped West Orange politicians from repeatedly using the author's material without his permission and without giving him due credit as the source. That simple concept of intellectual property has delivered its legal repercussions to them time and again by Dandola's attorneys.
"It's become rather adversarial due to the local politicians' false sense of self-importance and entitlement,"
Dead by Happenstance is published by Compass Point Mysteries (326 pages) and will be available online exclusively at http://www.Biblio.com or it can be ordered directly from the publisher at http://www.QuincannonGroup.com/
Dandola's publisher was one of the first in a growing list of independent publishers which have stopped selling through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The author has also resisted e-books not due to their format but due to the problem of security. His explanation is simple: "Digitalizing anything makes copying all the more easy therefore increasing potential theft and piracy which, in turn, robs an author of income. That's why my books will have to remain as old-fashioned books for the moment."
Among John Dandola's professional affiliations are: the Mystery Writers of America for his novels; the Writers Guild of America for his screenplays;