Larry Beinhart’s new crime novel flips the detective script

Do you remember the 1997 film “Wag the Dog?” It is a movie about an American president who becomes mired in a sex scandal right as he’s hoping to be re-elected. They bring in a consultant, played by Robert DeNiro, who is retained to spin this embarrassing incident straight out of the news cycle.

This consultant consults with a Hollywood movie producer, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, who proceeds to invent a series of false narratives, i.e., the USA is suddenly at war with Albania, to brilliantly churn that bad story about a president who is never actually seen in the film, into a completely bogus series of patriotic absurdities that becomes quite effective in distracting voters. Anne Heche, who died Aug. 14 from injuries sustained in a car crash, plays a presidential aide.

‘Wag the Dog” was based on the novel “American Hero” by Larry Beinhart. In his new novel “The Deal Goes Down,” the author alludes to accounting shenanigans which made it appear that “Wag the Dog” never really generated any profits.

Beinhart has finally returned to his series which features a private investigator named Tony Cassella. Tony is now retired and living at his place near Woodstock, New York. He’s about to lose his home through foreclosure, and feeling desperate.

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Beinhart sets his literary hook immediately. Here’s the first sentence: “The woman on the train asked me to kill someone.” How could any reader consider setting down a book with an opening line like that one? Impossible, no?

This book fits into that much beloved subgenre of crime novels in which the protagonists are criminals. Beinhart flips the typical detective trope on its rear in this fourth book in the series by transforming his investigator into a criminal. For a moment Cassella hesitates. When he thinks about all that money, he agrees to become a hitman.

Comedy ensues. He has been hired to arrange the demise of a very wealthy man who has a wandering eye. The woman on the train had had enough of her husband’s philandering. She and her rather bloodthirsty attorney friend recruit Cassella to snuff this libidinous Casanova.

They offer him one hundred thousand dollars, enough to save his house. He figures, one and done. One crime, then back to retirement. After the unfortunate accident which ends the life of the-easy-to-despise, Jeffrey Epstein-like husband, he planned to walk away.

Not so fast. The attorney has other ideas. She decides since Cassella’s so gifted at his new profession that she’s going to start a business taking out contracts to kill people. And guess what? That’s right, Tony C. is going to be her guy who completes the work.

He doesn’t like the new business enterprise one bit. He’s got to figure a way out of this. Comedy continues to ensue. We also learn how the low budget film “Wag the Dog” which cost only $20 million to make and grossed $40 million right away earned the writer exactly nothing. They call them monkey points. Not funny. At all.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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