TAEM- Once again we have the honor of interviewing the first American author of the famed James Bond novels . We last interviewed Raymond in our July 2014 issue of our magazine. At the time we discussed his recent publications of the series ‘Black Stiletto : Secrets & Lies’ and ‘ ‘Ice Cold- Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War’. We recently learned that Raymond has just completed another great novel, ‘Blues in the Dark’, so we caught up with him to find out more about it. Raymond what genre is this novel written in?
RB- We call it a thriller, but I think it’s more of a suspense novel, or perhaps a literary thriller. My publisher, Skyhorse, is beginning a new crime imprint this fall, Arcade Crime Wise, and I’m proud to be one of the first publications under that banner.
TAEM- Please tell us about the setting for this story and where it takes place.
RB- It’s a Hollywood story, and it takes place in two time periods—the present day and the late 1940s. The present day protagonist is a female film producer who decides to make a modern film noir about an actress from the 40s who starred in films noir as the “femme fatale”—but she was murdered, along with a studio head, at the height of her career. When the film producer discovers that the actress had been involved in an interracial relationship with a jazz musician, more secrets and conspiracies are uncovered. Thus, we not only get the producer’s story in the present, but we also jump back to the actress’ tale that’s presented as the “movie” that the producer will be making.
TAEM- What first inspired you to write about it?
RB- I’ve been a film historian for a long time, and in fact I’ve been teaching Film History at a local college in the Chicago area for 10-1/2 years. I also do monthly film lectures with Dann Gire, a Chicago newspaper film critic, and our “Siskel & Ebert”-style act has been enjoying a popular following for 13 years. But that’s just something in my background that informs the book. Interestingly, the story began differently. It was written in 2017. My then-96-year-old mother had sent me a newspaper clipping about a couple who bought an old house and then, when renovating, discovered a human skeleton in the walls. I got to thinking about secrets a creepy old house might contain, but I also had a story in mind about a film noir actress involved in a scandal that would have repercussions in the present day. The two ideas merged, and we got Blues in the Dark! That said, I believe anyone interested in Old Hollywood, film noir, and crime stories will enjoy the book.
TAEM- Please tell our readers about the main characters in this suspense novel and the background of each.
RB– Karissa Glover is a woman in her 40s who, with her male producing partner, sets out to make a movie about Blair Kendrick, the actress from the 40s who was mysteriously slain. Karissa is biracial and a film school graduate, talented, smart, and persistent. Blair is from Chicago, moved to Hollywood at a young age to try to make it in the movies—and practically succeeds overnight. Of course, Hollywood in the 1940s was very sexist and racist—and, ahem, I suppose it still is today! These things play a part in the story.
TAEM- Please tell us about the investigation the characters were launched into and if they have any real life models that you used to create them from.
RB- I always do a lot of research for my books. I traveled to Hollywood to explore the West Adams Heights area, where my Blair character lived in the 40s. It’s where many black celebrities in those years lived—Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, and others—and this setting is important in the story. I conducted interviews with appropriate people, had beta readers who would be sensitive to the characters and situations I created, and my publisher was very good at working with me in this regard. I’ve attempted to tell the story as honestly as I could. I wouldn’t say any of the characters are based on real-life people, though. It’s fiction, but hopefully it’s something readers might think could have happened.
TAEM- Was this story and era a follow-up of your successful ‘Black Stiletto’ series?
RB- No. The Black Stiletto is a 5-book serial that, I’m humble to say, has done well and is currently in development to be a television series or a feature film. Since I wrote those books, I’ve done a few things, but most recently my last three books, including Blues in the Dark, are stand-alone suspense thrillers for Skyhorse Publishing. The first of these, The Secrets on Chicory Lane, will be out in trade paperback this September after a successful hardcover run in 2017.
TAEM- When will our readership be able to see your book and where can they purchase it?
RB- Blues in the Dark comes out on October 8 and will be available as a hardcover and e-book, and as an audiobook shortly after that—readers can find it at all the usual retail outlets. My website has links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble (www.raymondbenson.com), but hopefully the local indie bookshop will stock it.
TAEM- Do you plan to have a series from this work and are you working on other new books that we can look forward to ?
RB- This is a stand-alone. I’m just now starting to work on the next book, probably another stand-alone… it seems that ever since writing the five books in the Black Stiletto series, I’ve been attracted to stand-alones and, for the time being, this is what I’m going to concentrate on.
TAEM- Raymond it is always a pleasure talking to you and we look forward to the launch of your new suspense story and urge all our readers to purchase a copy as soon as it appears. We wish you much luck in this new endeavor and hope that we can interview you again in the near future.
Photo credit : Katherine Tootelian