Chastain, Thomas 1921-1994
CHASTAIN, Thomas 1921-1994
PERSONAL: Born 1921; died September 1, 1994.
CAREER: Author. Also worked as a newspaper reporter and editor.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America (president, 1989).
Judgment Day, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.
Death Stalk, Award (New York, NY), 1971.
(Under pseudonym Nick Carter) Assassination Brigade, Award (New York, NY), 1974.
Pandora's Box, Mason & Lipscomb (New York, NY), 1974.
911, Mason Charter (New York, NY), 1976, published as The Christmas Bomber, Cassell (London, England), 1976.
Vital Statistics, Times Books (New York, NY), 1977.
High Voltage, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
The Diamond Exchange, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
Nightscape, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Who Killed the Robins Family? And Where and When and Why and How Did They Die?, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
(With Bill Adler) The Revenge of the Robins Family, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.
(With Bill Adler) The Picture-Perfect Murders, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Helen Hayes) Where the Truth Lies, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Perry Mason in the Case of Too Many Murders, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.
Perry Mason in the Case of the Burning Bequest, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
The Prosecutor, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Also contributor of short stories to anthologies, including Missing in Manhattan: The Adams Round Table, Longmeadow (Stamford, CT), 1992, and Justice in Manhattan: The Adams Round Table, Longmeadow (Stamford, CT), 1994.
SIDELIGHTS: Mystery writer Thomas Chastain has written both series and non-series novels, as well as fiction featuring Perry Mason, the lawyer-sleuth created by the late Erle Stanley Gardner. He is best known, however, for his two bestsellers, Who Killed the Robins Family? And Where and When and Why and How Did They Die? and its sequel, The Revenge of the Robins Family, based on an idea created by literary agent Bill Adler. Adler had the idea of having an author write a mystery novel in which the guilty party is not revealed to the reader. Instead, the reader has to guess who the murderer is and send his or her solution in to the publisher. The person who guessed the correct murderer first would be awarded a $10,000 prize; after the contest, the book would be reprinted with the solution to the mystery. Adler solicited Chastain to be the author of Who Killed the Robins Family?, in which eight members of a wealthy family are murdered in various ways, including aboard a yacht in the South Pacific, on the Orient Express, and in a series of equally exotic locales. The methods range from the conventional to the bizarre, and Chastain provides an endless stream of red herrings, motives, and opportunities for the murders. His The Revenge of the Robins Family and The Picture-Perfect Murders are gimmick books along the same lines as Who Killed the Robins Family?
Before the instant fame and success resulting from Who Killed the Robins Family? and its sequels, however, Chastain was known for a series of police procedurals featuring New York City's Deputy Chief Inspector Max Kauffman. The author used elements of the caper novel to generate the plots for these stories. The first book in the series, Pandora's Box, introduces J. T. Spanner, a private detective. Spanner discovers an informant who claims a multi-million dollar heist is about to occur. He turns the informant over to Max Kauffman, but finds himself involved in the case as Kauffman's investigation fails to prevent the theft of priceless paintings from the Metropolitan Museum. The plot ends with a shattering and unexpected conclusion.
In 911 a psychopath sets off a bomb a day while Kauffman receives daily conversations with the man who calls and taunts him on the 911 emergency line. Aspects of Kauffman's personality, including his personal wealth and mistress, are central to this book. J. T. Spanner takes center stage while Kauffman is in the background in Vital Statistics. Here, Spanner almost runs over the mutilated body of a young girl tossed from the car in front of him. The body is hijacked before it can reach the morgue; this chain of events sets Spanner into action, investigating singles bars, sex clubs, and discovering the bizarre plot. Kauffman returns as the main protagonist in High Voltage in which a band of daring criminals threatens to cause a massive blackout of New York City unless they receive a three million dollar ransom. They arrange a series of small blackouts to prove they can do it. Kauffman comes up with a plan to con the criminals, but he has to make the money drop himself. In The Diamond Exchange the caper is large-scale: a group of thieves takes over a precinct and, using police uniforms and police cars, pulls off a twenty-five million dollar heist. Along with this caper, Kauffman also has to deal with a series of rape-murders, a police corruption case, and his own complicated personal life. The resolutions leave the series open for additional books.
When the reading public tired of gimmick books, Chastain found success again by writing a novel with actress Helen Hayes called Where the Truth Lies; then he imitated Gardner's writing style in creating a new "Perry Mason" mystery, Perry Mason in the Case of Too Many Murders. The Case of Too Many Murders was the first new "Perry Mason" mystery to come out since Gardner's death in 1970. Mason returns with Della Street and Paul Drake, Jr. to defend the wife of a businessman who is accused of murdering her husband. This has all the elements of the winning "Perry Mason" formula: a twisting plot, mysterious clues, and a courtroom finale that solves the case. Chastain brings Mason back again in Perry Mason in the Case of the Burning Bequest. In what a Publishers Weekly reviewer called a "successful continuation" of the Gardner books, the famous attorney must defend a man accused of stabbing his stepmother. When all the evidence and odds seem stacked up against him, Mason is again victorious in a formula book in which the "fun comes from guessing how—not if"—the attorney will prove his case.
Chastain's non-series novels include Nightscape, in which a mother of a lost child discovers a pack of wild children who roam the night streets and parks of New York City, and Death Stalk, which features three young couples vacationing on the Salmon River who find themselves terrorized by a band of escaped convicts. His last book before his 1994 death was also a non-series novel: The Prosecutor. This story centers on Manhattan's first female district attorney, Anne Gilman, who takes office in the midst of a large caseload of crimes that at first seem unrelated. The crimes include the disappearances of members of the Mafia, as well as an important murder case. Things go from bad to worse when Gilman is accused of trying to cover up a felony. The author's final published works include contributions to two anthologies: Missing in Manhattan: The Adams Round Table, and Justice in Manhattan: The Adams Round Table.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, April 1, 1981, review of The DiamondExchange, p. 819.
New York Times Book Review, March 15, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of The Diamond Exchange, p. 37; September 2, 1984, Joanne Kaufman, review of The Revenge of the Robins Family, p. 14; April 10, 1988, John Rothman, review of Where the Truth Lies, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, February 13, 1981, review of TheDiamond Exchange, p. 81; March 12, 1982, review of Nightscape, p. 79; June 22, 1984, review of The Revenge of the Robins Family, p. 89; December 18, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of Where the Truth Lies, p. 58; June 29, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Perry Mason in the Case of the Burning Bequest, p. 88; September 28, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Body Is Found, p. 88; August 31, 1992, review of Missing in Manhattan, p. 67; October 5, 1992, review of The Prosecutor, p. 57; September 19, 1994, review of Justice in Manhattan, p. 54.
Vogue, February, 1988, Susan Bolotin, review of Where the Truth Lies, p. 237.*