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Sleight of Hand: A Novel of Suspenseby Phillip Margolin
BEHIND THE BOOK: SLEIGHT OF HAND
When I get an interesting idea that isn't enough for a whole book I will put it in the idea file I keep in a cubby hole next to my desk. When I finish a book and I'm looking for inspiration for my next book I pull out my idea file and go through it. The file contains magazine and newspaper articles and scraps of paper with my notes. Occasionally, my brain will make a connection between two different ideas and — voila! — I've got the idea for my next book. The inspiration for "Sleight of Hand" came from my idea file and several other sources.
Over the years, my friends and I have made lists of our favorite all-time movies. "The Maltese Falcon" is always at the top of my list. I love the language, which is almost word for word from Dashiell Hamett's novel — with the exception of the last line, which is uttered by Sam Spade, and which might be the best closing line in the history of motion pictures. I also love the actors who comprise one of the best ensemble casts in motion picture history. But most of all I love the idea that energizes the whole film, the quest. There is this quirky band of criminals who are willing to lie, cheat, steal and even murder so they can possess a mythical "Black Bird" that legend holds is made of solid gold but whose very existence is in question.
Dashiell Hamett's masterpiece is an obvious inspiration for one thread in "Sleight of Hand." Private Investigator Dana Cutler is hired by a mysterious Frenchwoman to track down a gold jewel encrusted scepter with a history of murder and intrigue that once belonged to an Ottoman sultan. During her quest she meets a quirky cast of characters; she is shot at on a fog enshrouded island, followed by a Teutonic thug in a black leather trench coat and has a meeting with a seductive countess. The connection between her quest and the quest for the Maltese Falcon is intentionally obvious and one of the big surprises in "Sleight of Hand" comes when the reader finds out why Dana was hired.
For years, I had thought about a scene in which a lawyer meets the key witness against a client at night outside a seedy bar and kills him so he can win his case. I could never think of a book in which to use this character or this scene until I thought up the plot for "Sleight of Hand," which involves a battle of wits between Dana Cutler and a brilliant lawyer who is using magic tricks to pull off the perfect crime. Charles Benedict is the villain in "Sleight-of-Hand." He is a charismatic criminal defense attorney who is also an amateur magician and a hitman for the Russian mob. The reader meets Benedict for the first time when he leaves a cocktail party to murder a witness who is scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury.
I have always loved magic and I've tried to see all of the famous magicians like David Copperfield in person. The idea of making my bad guy an amateur magician and having him use magic to pull off his "perfect" crime really appealed to me. Charles Benedict uses sleight of hand to frame Horace Benedict for Carrie's murder and that was the inspiration for the title.
Another plot element in "Sleight of Hand" involves the relationship between multimillionaire Horace Blair and his wife, Carrie Blair, the so-called "Society Prosecutor." The couple met when Carrie prosecuted Horace for driving under the influence. It is hard for me to write short stories because I always want to use the ideas for a novel. Several years ago, my short story, "The House on Pine Terrace," was included in the anthology, "The Best American Mystery Stories of 2010." That story involves a romance between an undercover police officer who is posing as a call girl and a wealthy John who she arrests. The story lines in "Sleight of Hand" and "The House on Pine Terrace" are very different but one inspired the other.
One of the most exciting things for me as a writer is the moment when I have a flash of inspiration in which I see the connection between disparate elements and watch them come together to form an exciting plot. That happened when many unconnected ideas came together to give me the idea for "Sleight of Hand."
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