Hall, Parnell 1944- (J.P. Hailey)

views updated

Hall, Parnell 1944- (J.P. Hailey)

PERSONAL:

Born October 31, 1944, in Culver City, CA; son of James and Frances Hall; married Lynn Mandel, 1975; children: Justin, Toby. Education: Marlboro College, B.A., 1968.

ADDRESSES:

Home—New York, NY. Agent—Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary Agency, 160 W. 95th St., Ste. 1B, New York, NY 10025. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, screenwriter, educator, and actor. Marlboro Theater Company, actor, 1968, 1970-74; Windsor Mountain School, Lenox, MA, teacher, 1974-75, Berkshire Community College, Pittsfield, MA, teacher, 1975; Stockbridge School, Stockbridge, MA, teacher, 1975-76; screenwriter, 1977-84; Claims Investigation Bureau, Mount Vernon, NY, private detective, 1985-87; novelist, 1987—. Appeared in the films Hercules in New York, 1969, and A New Leaf.

MEMBER:

International Association of Crime Writers, Private Eye Writers of America (vice president, 1993-94; president, 1995-96), Mystery Writers of America, American Crime Writers, Sisters in Crime.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Edgar Award nomination for best first novel, Mystery Writers of America, 1988, for Detective; Shamus Award nomination for best first private eye novel, Private Eye Writers of America, 1988, for Detective, and Shamus Award nomination for best private eye novel, 1996, for Movie.

WRITINGS:

"STANLEY HASTINGS" MYSTERY SERIES

Detective, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1987.

Murder, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1988.

Favor, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1988.

Strangler, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1989.

Client, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1990.

Juror, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1990.

Shot, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1991.

Actor, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Blackmail, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Movie, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Trial, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Scam, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Suspense, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Cozy, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2001.

Manslaughter: A Stanley Hastings Mystery, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.

"PUZZLE LADY" MYSTERY SERIES

A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.

Last Puzzle and Testament, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

Puzzled to Death, Bantam (New York, NY), 2001.

A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.

With this Puzzle, I Thee Kill, Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.

And a Puzzle to Die On: A Puzzle Lady Mystery, Bantam (New York, NY), 2004.

Stalking the Puzzle Lady, Bantam (New York, NY), 2005.

You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled: A Puzzle Lady Mystery, Bantam (New York, NY), 2006.

"STEVE WINSLOW" MYSTERY SERIES; UNDER PSEUDONYM J.P. HAILEY

The Baxter Trust, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1988.

The Anonymous Client, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1989.

The Underground Man, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1990.

The Naked Typist, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1990.

The Wrong Gun, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1992.

OTHER

Also author of the screenplay C.H.U.D.

SIDELIGHTS:

Perhaps best known for his mystery novels featuring Manhattan private detective Stanley Hastings, Parnell Hall also authors the "Steve Winslow" series of novels, about an iconoclastic lawyer, under the pseudonym J.P. Hailey. He is also author of a series focusing on a hard-drinking, middle-aged sleuth known as the "puzzle lady." Hastings, as reviewers have frequently pointed out, is one of the more likable and less hard-boiled private eyes in fiction. Although a licensed detective, this frustrated playwright and happily married family man makes his living as an "ambulance chaser" for a personal-injury lawyer, signing up clients and taking their statements. The criminal cases that come his way, often accidentally, cause him to rely on his "street smarts," his wit, and the overcoming of his realistic fears as he fumbles his way toward solutions. Hall, according to reviewer Marvin Lachman in the Armchair Detective, based Hastings's character on some of his own experiences as an aspiring writer and New York City dweller.

In Hall's debut novel, Detective, Hastings finds his first client murdered and tracks down the killer at his own expense. Lachman found the puzzle element of the novel to be "rather ordinary," although its writing makes it "an often amusing, fast-paced first novel with considerable suspense." In a review of Hall's second novel, Murder, a Publishers Weekly writer looked back on Detective as a "notable debut." Murder involves a neighbor of Hastings who has been blackmailed into working as a prostitute; when she is killed, Hastings comes under suspicion and solves the crime in order to clear his own name. As in Detective, Hastings collaborates with Police Sergeant MacAuliff, whom author Hall uses as a foil for his protagonist and a source of witty observations on police procedure.

In his third published adventure, Favor, Hastings is sent to Atlantic City to investigate MacAuliff's sleazy son-in-law as a favor for that police sergeant. He infiltrates the mob using what a Publishers Weekly contributor called "a hilarious, albeit unbelievable, modus operandi" and plunges into "a web of intrigue that is pure entertainment for the reader." For a Booklist contributor, Favor was a "spirited, well-made" entry in "a very funny, very smart mystery series." A Library Journal contributor wrote that after a slow beginning, the novel moves along in a way that is both enjoyably comical and believably real.

Hastings's fourth volume, Strangler, finds him accused by an unpleasant police sergeant (not MacAuliff) of committing a series of murders by strangulation. His clearing of his own name results in what Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett called "a great addition to the series." A Booklist contributor wrote: "It's great fun to meet a sleuth with very few answers." Hastings, that reviewer explained, "reaffirms one's belief in the power of relentless mediocrity."

With his next assignment, in Client, Hastings follows a client's wife to a motel, falls asleep on his stakeout, and finds himself framed for her murder. This prompted Booklist's Stuart Miller to call Hastings "delightfully inept," and the case "yet another highly readable mystery starring one of the most unusual private eyes ever to take on a case." For Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett, Client represented "continued high quality" in the series, marked by a swift, humorous style.

Juror finds Hastings performing jury duty on a case which he admits is boring. The murder in question is that of a fellow juror, a woman whom Hastings had been driving to the courtroom each morning. The novel provides an occasion for observations on jury trials and on murder investigations which a Publishers Weekly contributor found to be the book's strong points. Kliatt contributor Rita M. Fontinha found Juror "suspenseful to the end, and great fun too," and Armchair Detective contributor Jon L. Breen declared it "hugely enjoyable" for its "terrific stunt payoff" and its observations on the jury system.

Hall's next Hastings title, Shot, finds Hastings working for a wealthy woman to investigate her own boyfriend; the boyfriend is then found dead and once again, Hastings is a suspect. The plot, a Publishers Weekly contributor warned, contains an "all-encompassing red herring" but is enlivened by two climaxes—one comic and one serious—and "vivid looks at Manhattan's seamier side." In Chicago's Tribune Books, reviewer Kevin Moore commented that Hastings's ordinariness and the other characters' believability, although well rendered, make the tale less exciting. For New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Stasio, however, Shot provided evidence that Hall's series is "forever fresh."

In Actor, Hastings accepts a friend's invitation to perform in a Connecticut theater group; the stabbing death of the stage manager provides the crime, and the setting affords an opportunity for observations about the denizens of the theatrical profession. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio noted: "Mr. Hall knows the theatrical drill to which he hilariously subjects Stanley." The protagonist, Stasio asserted, "wins our vote for Best Performance by an Actor on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." A Publishers Weekly noted that despite a slow start, the novel deserved a "standing ovation."

Blackmail concerns an attractive female client who hires Hastings to pay off a blackmailer for pornographic pictures in which the client does not even appear. The client then turns up dead, as does another individual, and an elaborate sting is gradually uncovered by Hastings with the aid of his wife, Alice. Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky found this "an intelligent, unusual spin on the tough-guy detective," and called the dialogue "the best this side of George V. Higgins." A Kirkus Reviews contributor, claiming that Hall's novels often start with great ideas, found this one to be a winner from beginning to end, noting: "Every page quivers with comic frustration, and the result is an absolute joy."

Hastings's tenth published adventure, Movie, gives him the opportunity to observe the world of filmmaking, as a screenplay of his is accepted by a producer. Murder enters when a homeless man is killed near the set, and then a sound technician is also found dead. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt the plot does not meet the level of the witty banter in the book, but that "anyone who can relax and ignore the mystery is guaranteed a good time." Writing in Booklist, Wes Lukowsky called this book "an entertaining entry in an underappreciated series."

Hastings's next book appearance, in Trial, finds him once again on his professional turf as an ambulance-chaser for a lawyer. His employer is defending a man accused of murdering his wife; the defendant has an apparently good alibi concerning a poker game, but Hastings has doubts, and then one of the poker players is killed. The novel ends with a surprise, and Booklist contributor George Needham called it "lots of fun." For a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the novel was well paced and balanced, containing a complex alibi with "a lot of very sharp turns in the courtroom." A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the novel's climactic scene is "memorable, though far-fetched," and that the series itself is "rollicking."

Hastings moves on to an "intricate and fiendishly funny case," in the words of a Publishers Weekly contributor, in his next book, Scam. In this installment of the series an investment banker hires the private detective to collect information about a woman he met in a singles bar. A series of dead bodies impinge on the investigation, and once again Hastings is framed for murder. A Publishers Weekly wrote that "smart dialogue, clever plotting and a perfectly executed reverse scam … result in sparkling entertainment." The novel also won plaudits from a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who commended Hall for taking "slender material" and weaving it into "a gossamer web of riddles by turns puzzling, suspenseful, and hilarious." According to Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, Scam showed that "what Mr. Hall does to the private-eye formula is very funny, but it isn't frivolous. His puzzles, for all their manic nonsense, are fiendish constructions of sound logic."

Hastings's thirteenth outing, Suspense, brings him good luck as well, in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor. Here, a bestselling suspense novelist's wife hires Hastings to uncover the source of harassing phone calls—and the calls lead to murder. The case gives Hastings an opening to offer comically wise observations on the publishing industry with its agents, editors, and would-be writers. David Pitt, writing in Booklist pointed out the self-referential nature of this comedy in this "very clever" novel about the suspense genre; for example, the characters frequently state that the case on which Hastings is working would make a bad novel. For Pitt, this experiment worked, because Suspense is "first-class fun from start to finish."

Hastings reappears in Cozy. In this adventure, Hastings is vacationing at a New England B & B when one of the other guests is murdered. When the local police chief misinterprets the clues and places the blame for the murder on Hastings and his wife, Alice, Hastings has no choice but to find the real killer. Writing in Booklist, Ilene Cooper noted that the mystery itself "takes a backseat to the delicious style with which the tale is told." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "The book's real strength is its plot, which has a certain crazed logic that will keep most readers turning the pages."

In Manslaughter: A Stanley Hastings Mystery, Hastings finds himself working for an ex-con, Joe Balfour, who is being blackmailed. However, as the case progresses, Hastings, aided by his cop friend, MacAulif, soon learns that Joe Balfour the criminal does not exist. The case becomes further complicated by the murder of the blackmailer. "As usual, Hall has crafted a mystery that's both funny and genuinely mysterious," wrote David Pitt in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Whodunit fans with a taste for the unconventional will find this just what the doctor ordered."

Hall introduced a new mystery series and a new leading character, Cora Felton, in A Clue for the Puzzle Lady. Cora, the "puzzle lady," lives in Bakerhaven, a charming suburban town in Connecticut, where her neighbors frown on her heavy drinking but bask in her fame as a creator of nationally syndicated crossword puzzles without realizing that her niece Sherry ghostwrites the puzzles. Cora gets to work on a different kind of puzzle, though, when crossword-puzzle clues start turning up on dead bodies. A Publishers Weekly contributor welcomed the character of Cora, describing her as "a true original" and "Miss Marple as a promiscuous lush." The reviewer also commended the supporting characters, the dialogue, and the plot. Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido noted that some of the book's elements seemed overly familiar, but added that "Hall works with them in such deft ways, with such spiffy dialogue, that we are immediately seduced."

Cora and Sherry return in Last Puzzle and Testament, in which a strange woman named Emma Hurley dies and leaves a will granting her substantial wealth to whichever one of her heirs can solve a complicated puzzle—with Cora in charge of the judging. But soon, someone starts killing the players, and Cora and her niece must shift into crime-solving mode. "The second puzzle for Cora Felton … is even better than her clever debut," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. GraceAnne A. DeCandido, once again reviewing for Booklist, predicted that "this novel's puzzles within puzzles will charm and so will its attractive cast."

Cora and her editor are hosting a puzzle tournament when people begin turning up dead in Puzzled to Death. Although the murders initially seem unrelated, Cora soon finds a strange connection. "Cruciverbalists will get a bang out of working out the three crossword puzzles critical to solving the mystery," wrote Cathy Burke in People. GraceAnne A. DeCandido, writing in Booklist, noted that "the crosswordiana remains engaging."

A Puzzle in a Pear Tree finds Cora rehearsing as one of the maids-a-milking for a theatrical presentation of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which is part of the Bakerhaven Christman Pageant. Meanwhile, Sherry is the Virgin Mary in a recreation of the Nativity scene. Before long, someone poisons a pear tree given to Becky Baldwin, who is the star of the pageant. Cora sets out to find the culprit along with the help of Jonathon Doddsworth, a Scotland yard detective visiting his daughter. Things go awry however, when Sherry is arrested for the murder of another actor. A Kirkus Reviews writer called the novel "less abrasive and more amusing than her [Hall's] previous outings." Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, noted: "Here, the puzzles are acrostics … [and] their presence adds freshness to the problem solving."

In With this Puzzle, I Thee Kill, Cora sets out to solve murders via the solution of cryptograms. All this takes place within the context of Cora's ex-husband showing up with his new bride-to-be and asking that their daughter Sherry be in his wedding. "Hall's trademark word play and gift for creating eccentric characters remain as sharp as ever," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Stalking the Puzzle Lady features Cora selling cereal on a media junket and being stalked by a former high-school classmate. When another young woman on the media tour is murdered, Cora sets out to solve the mystery. Stephanie Zvirin, writing in Booklist, noted that "feisty, contentious Cora has plenty of quirky charm." A Kirkus Reviews critic wrote: "Hall juggles facile satire and suspense in an entertaining effort."

You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled finds Cora accused of plagiarism and then of murder when her accuser is found dead. The problem Cora faces is to solve the murder without revealing that it is really Sherry and not Cora who creates the puzzles. In Booklist, David Pitt noted the novel's "suspenseful mystery, engaging characters, [and] dialogue that sparkles." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "Cora …, one tough cookie, provides amusing fodder for crossword fans."

Hall once told CA: "I began writing my first novel, Detective, in 1985, when I was working as a private investigator in New York City. The firm I worked for serviced negligence lawyers, the type who advertised for clients on TV. I interviewed the accident victims, usually those who had fallen on the city sidewalk, and photographed the casts on their arms and legs, and the cracks in the pavement that had tripped them. While this was real detective work, it was not the type I was used to reading about in mystery novels, and it occurred to me how ill equipped I would be if I had to solve a murder. So that's how I began my novel. The detective is in his office, and the client is telling him, ‘You have to help me, someone's trying to kill me.’ This is where the P.I. says, ‘There, there, citizen,’ straps on his gun, and goes out to fight the bad guys. Stanley Hastings says, ‘Are you kidding? I don't have a gun, I have a camera. I take pictures of cracks in the sidewalk.’ When the man is killed, Stanley is devastated, and spends the rest of the book trying to make up for the fact he could not help him because he was not ‘a real detective.’"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Armchair Detective, winter, 1992, Jon L. Breen, review of Juror, pp. 58-59; spring, 1996, Marvin Lachman, review of Detective, pp. 174-175.

Booklist, January 15, 1988, review of Murder, p. 830; September 15, 1988, review of Favor, p. 123; July, 1989, review of Strangler, p. 1871; March 15, 1990, Stuart Miller, review of Client, p. 1418; March 15, 1994, Wes Lukowsky, review of Blackmail, p. 1330; March 15, 1995, Wes Lukowsky, review of Movie, p. 1311; January 1, 1996, George Needham, review of Trial, pp. 795-796; December 1, 1997, David Pitt, review of Suspense, p. 611; October 1, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, p. 346; July, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Last Puzzle and Testament, p. 2013; May 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Cozy, p. 1632; May 21, 2001, review of Cozy, p. 83; September 15, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Puzzled to Death, p. 198; November 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Puzzle in a Pear Tree, p. 580; February 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of Manslaughter: A Stanley Hastings Mystery, p. 1053; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of With this Puzzle, I Thee Kill, p. 585; November 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of And a Puzzle to Die On: A Puzzle Lady Mystery, p. 466; September 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Stalking the Puzzle Lady, p. 69; September 1, 2006, David Pitt, review of You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled, p. 61.

Decatur Daily, June 18, 2006, Jane Davis, "Puzzle Lady Series Unappealing, Lame."

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1987, review of Murder, p. 1701; March 1, 1993, review of Actor, p. 262; January 1, 1994, p. 20; February 1, 1995, review of Movie, p. 109; December 1, 1995, review of Trial, p. 1670; February 15, 1997, review of Scam, p. 258; November 1, 1997, review of Suspense, p. 1608; October 1, 1999, review of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, p. 1527; August 15, 2001, review of Puzzled to Death, p. 1166; October 1, 2002, review of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, p. 1429; December 15, 2002, review of Manslaughter, p. 1807; September 1, 2005, review of Stalking the Puzzle Lady, p. 944; August 15, 2006, review of You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled, p. 811.

Kliatt, September, 1993, Rita M. Fontinha, review of Juror, p. 10.

Library Journal, September 1, 1988, Rex E. Klett, review of Favor, pp. 185-186; May 1, 1989, Rex E. Klett, review of Strangler, p. 101; April 1, 1990, Rex E. Klett, review of Client, p. 140; November 1, 1999, review of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, p. 128; July, 2001, Rex Klett, review of Cozy, p. 130; November 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, p. 132.

New York Times Book Review, July 15, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Client, p. 26; February 7, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Shot, p. 28; May 30, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Actor, p. 13; April 27, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Scam, p. 36; December 12, 1999, for A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, p. 41; July 22, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Cozy, p. 22; March 9, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of Manslaughter, p. 21; November 27, 2005, Marilyn Stasio, review of Stalking the Puzzle Lady, p. 30.

People, January 28, 2002, Cathy Burke, review of Puzzled to Death, p. 43.

Publishers Weekly, December 18, 1987, review of Murder, p. 57; August 19, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Favor, pp. 60-61; October 5, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Juror, p. 92; April 26, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Shot, p. 49; March 8, 1993, review of Actor, p. 70; January 10, 1994, review of Blackmail, p. 47; January 30, 1995, review of Movie, p. 88; December 11, 1995, review of Trial, p. 59; January 27, 1997, review of Scam, p. 80; October 20, 1997, review of Suspense, p. 57; October 25, 1999, review of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, p. 54; August 14, 2000, review of Last Puzzle and Testament, p. 332; May 21, 2001, review of Cozy, p. 83; November 25, 2002, review of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, p. 47; January 27, 2003, review of Manslaughter, p. 239; October 27, 2003, reviews of Puzzled to Death and With this Puzzle, I Thee Kill, p. 46; October 25, 2004, review of And a Puzzle to Die On, p. 32; September 5, 2005, review of Stalking the Puzzle Lady, p. 39; September 11, 2006, review of You Have the Right to Remain Puzzled, p. 38.

Reviewer's Bookwatch, November, 2004, Debra Hamel, review of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 2, 1989, review of Strangler, pp. 4-5; July 7, 1991, Kevin Moore, review of Shot, p. 6.

Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2002, review of A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, p. D6.

ONLINE

Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (May 2, 2007), information on author's film work.

MysteryNet.com,http://www.mysterynet.com/ (May 2, 2007), brief profile of author.

Parnell Hall Home Page,http://www.parnellhall.com (May 2, 2007).

About this article

Hall, Parnell 1944- (J.P. Hailey)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article