Originally published in the 80s and early 90s, the Stewart Hoag mystery series was revived as ebooks in 2012 by Otto Penzler’s mysteriouspress.com. The Man Who Died Laughing is the first installment in this beloved series. With The Lady in the Cloud—the 13th book in the series—scheduled for publication on February 1, 2022, now is the perfect time to begin—or revisit!—this charming, intelligent, and humorous series.
In The Man Who Died Laughing, we meet novelist Stewart Hoag. His first novel was a huge success, and everyone wants to be his friend. All seems to be golden and he's on the precipice of a successful writing career—until writer's block hits, that is, and his attempts at writing a second novel are a bust. Hoag loses his friends, money, and wife all disappeared; only Lulu—his faithful, neurotic basset hound—sticks by his. Desperate and running out of options, Hoag turns to ghostwriting.
When he heads to Florida to write a memoir with aging comic Sonny Day, his dreams of sunshine and beach life are quickly dashed. He and Lulu discover Day’s corpse—and a murder rap with Hoagy’s name on it.
Mark Schweizer, author of The Alto Wore Tweed, calls the Stewart Hoag series "fresh and fun and as good as mystery writing gets." While Parnell Hall, author of You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled, declares, “If I could get Stewart Hoag to ghostwrite my books they’d sell better, and I’d laugh myself silly. David Handler is a hoot, and his books are just the thing for what ails you.” And Publisher's Weekly says, “Handler’s breezy, unpretentious and warm-hearted hero provides a breath of fresh air in a world of investigative angst.”
So curl up, read the following excerpt—and prepare meet your latest mystery series obsession.
Read on for an excerpt of The Man Who Died Laughing by David Handler, and then purchase the book.
The Man Who Died Laughing
There was a plump new feather pillow on my bed, but I didn’t fall asleep the second my head hit it. Or the hour. Anyone with the approximate IQ of pimiento loaf could see that that knife was meant to scare me off. Yet neither Sonny or Vic seemed the slightest bit ruffled by it. Had Vic done it? He had warned me not to mess Sonny up. Maybe he seriously wanted me gone. Someone from the immediate family did. The grounds were secure. The knife was from Sonny’s kitchen—I’d checked with Maria. I lay there, puzzled, uneasy, wondering if I should just forget the project and go home. I’m the first to admit it—trouble is not my business. But thinking about home got me thinking about Merilee, and like I said, I was up for a while.
I had just dropped off at about four when this ungodly wailing woke me. At first I thought it was sirens. But the more awake I became the more it sounded like twenty or thirty wild animals. I put on my dressing gown and opened the guesthouse door. It was animals all right, animals howling away in the darkness.
Lulu nudged my bare ankle. I picked her up and held her in my arms. She gave me very little resistance. Together we ventured bravely forth.
Wanda was stretched out in a lounge chair by the pool, still dressed in a shimmering dress and shawl from her night out. She glanced up at me, then went back to the bottle of Dom Perignon she was working on. “It’s the coyotes.”
“Coyotes? In the middle of Los Angeles?”
“They’re miles from here—way back in the hills. The sound carries in the canyons. Spooky, isn’t it?”
“Maybe a little.” I put Lulu down. She stayed right between my legs. Wanda smiled at me. “You must think I’m an awful cunt.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“He just gets to me sometimes.”
“My father and I don’t get along either.”
“I know he’s right, about my taste in men. I have … I have a kind of low opinion of myself. But I don’t need for him to tell me, you know?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
I stretched out in the chair next to her. She filled her glass and gave me the bottle. I took a swig. We listened to the coyotes.
“Don’t get too taken in by him,” she said. “He can seem nice, but he’s still as big a shit as he ever was. He’s still crazy. He’s just channeled it differently. It used to come out as meanness and destructiveness. Now it’s peace and love. He’s a bully. If you’re nice to him, he won’t respect you— he’ll run right over you. The only thing he understands is strength. How did you get this job anyway?”
“By hanging up on him, I think.”
“What exactly are you supposed to do?”
“Help him tell his story. Talk to him. Try to understand him.”
She fingered the rim of her glass. “Good luck. It isn’t easy to understand people when they don’t understand themselves. I suppose he’s trying, though. About before … I didn’t mean to be so negative, I’ll try to help you. We’ve mended a few fences, he and I. Certainly we’re better than we were. That’s something. I’ll do what I can. Just don’t expect a lot from me.”
“Whatever you can do will be much appreciated.”
The coyotes quieted down. It was suddenly very peaceful. We drank, looking at the moon.
“How do you like The Hulk?” asked Wanda, after a while. “Vic? He sure seems loyal.”
“He loves Sonny.”
“He told me.”
“And he’s very protective of him.”
“He told me that, too.”
“He’s a real sweetie—as long as he isn’t angry. Then he can get… atilt.”
“Yes. Trust me on this one, Hoagy. Don’t ever let him get mad at you.”
“I’ll remember that.”
I looked over at her, stretched out so elegantly there in the moonlight, her lovely silken ankles crossed. She looked damned good. “How come you don’t act anymore?”
“I never acted. I appeared in films.”
“I always liked you.”’
“You liked my body.”
“You have talent. You can act.”
“I was no Merilee Nash.” She raised an eyebrow. “What’s she like? Is she as perfect as she comes off?”
“She has flaws, just like everybody else. I never found them, but I’m sure they’re there.” I drained the bottle. “You can act. Really.”
“Well, thank you. I quit because it was making me too insecure and crazy. Stop, I know what you’re thinking— crazier than she is now? You should have seen me before. You should have seen me when I was doing acid.”
“Vic said you were …”
“Locked up. Yes, twice. Once during my famous psychedelic period. Once before, when I was a girl.” She reached for a cigarette. “Why are you really here?”
“I’m writing your fathers book, remember?”
“But this kind of work isn’t very distinguished, is it? I mean, if you’re such a serious writer …”
“I stopped writing.”
“If I knew why, I wouldn’t have stopped.”
She smiled. “We’re really quite a pair, aren’t we? A real couple of exes.”
“Yes. Ex-famous. Ex-talented. Ex-young. Ex-married. We ought to become pals.”
“I got the impression you didn’t like me.”
She turned. Her profile, in the pale light, was very like her mother’s. “I was just being difficult. Look, you’re going to be here for a while. We can be friends, can’t we? I’m not such an awful person. I’ll help you, if I can. And we can have dinner sometime.”
“I’d like that. I’ll buy.”
She gave me a slow, naughty once-over. She was hamming now, playing a game. “Where will you take me?”
“You’ll have to pick the place,” I replied coolly, playing along. “I don’t know this town very well.”
“Would you like to know it better?”
“I’m beginning to think I would.”
“How much do you want to spend?”
“How much are you worth?”
“More than you can afford.”
“Sorry I asked.”
“I’m not.” We both laughed. That broke the spell.
“What’s that from again?” I asked.
“Yeah. What movie?”
“Our movie. It’s much more fun to make one up as you go along. You’ll see.”
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