Hamilton Fletcher: Who the hell are you?
You’re Hamilton Fletcher. You are the CEO of the largest paint and coatings company east of the Mississippi.
Hamilton Fletcher: Exactly right.
The college founded by your ancestors still exists today in Hamilton, New Hampshire. Made possible by your management and financial prowess.
Hamilton Fletcher: I’m beginning to like you, my boy. Tell me more.
Hamilton, New Hampshire’s sports teams are A#1.
Hamilton Fletcher: Well, that’s true now since I fired that bumbling jackass, Lark Larsen. I only wished he had left town.
So, you’re happy with coach Mathias Jones?
Hamilton Fletcher: Absolutely.
How do you fund the college?
Hamilton Fletcher: Of course, we procure our money from a diverse number of sources and organizations.
Can you elaborate, sir?”
Hamilton Fletcher: One rule I learned long ago is not divulge you source of income… No matter how nefarious.
“Then your ventures are very profitable.”
Hamilton Fletcher: When it comes to money, young man. My time is your time.
So, Hamilton College is a secure school with an esteemed faculty-”
Hamilton Fletcher: I wouldn’t go that far.
Oh, are there problems at Hamilton?”
Hamilton Fletcher: Problems with the security personnel. That walking disaster area Bucky Driscoll.
Hamilton Fletcher: Oh, dear God I wish I could.
We’ll leave it at that.
Hamilton Fletcher: Right.
There seems to be a very odd fact about Hamilton… An extremely high rate of murders.
Hamilton Fletcher: Murder, Mayhem, and Monkey Business. Like I always say: You don’t like it in Hamilton… Then move the hell out! Very simple. I have a meeting with the college trustees. Have a good evening.
Thank you, Mr. Fletcher I will.
Hamilton Fletcher: “Hawlings, where the hell is my Scotch and water? Make it a double!”
If for any reason you are dissatisfied with Fletcher Coatings I’ll give you a hundred bucks!
Hamilton Fletcher, CEO Fletcher Coatings
(subject to BIG limitations)
First let me give you a Boomer Alert. For those not familiar with the term. We were born from 1946 to 1964. And I have to warn you all who are accustomed to serious murder mysteries that you have just left the city of Prince William and have crossed the line into Hamilton, New Hampshire. This is not Mary Higgins Clark, nor is it Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker or Ed McBain. None of these fine accomplished authors would be caught dead in Hamilton, New Hampshire. On second thought maybe they would be caught dead.
Take the opening scene of The Strange Death of Dr. Povitch. The security officer for Hamilton College (there’s only one guy) has lost the key to the gate of the school’s observatory. As Jones and his friend Professor Fred Dempsey wait to drive into the observatory, Bucky Driscoll whacks and hacks away at the chained lock on the observatory gate-with three feet of snow blanketing the Hamilton area. Might there just be the most enduring scientific principle at play here? Is it possible to be dumber than dumb? Yes, of course. You won’t see any Bucky Driscoll characters consistently in the hard-boiled crime books.
Angel Martin comes close in the Rockford Files and Magnum PI has some odd funny characters. Hamilton, New Hampshire is loaded with over-the-top bobble head characters bouncing about like a pinball as the solid citizens just don’t seem to be bothered the eccentricities.
Dr. Povitch is a brilliant professor and scientist but he’s solid or normal. He has a running feud with Father Jim Gallagher about some grant money that Gallagher was going to use to build a satellite chapel in Hamilton. In the opening scene at observatory Fred Dempsey is also solid. And poor Jones seems to be sandbagged by the bobble heads, such as Bucky at every turn. One thing about the Bobbles is that they don’t seem to know they’re strange, eccentric, or bizarre.
Here’s the catch within all the madness: The actual unlocking of the murder is not wacky all though there are wacky scenes with the strange, eccentric, or bizarre characters. Having the crude Bucky in the presence of the esteemed doctor is an old theme. The Marx Brothers were geniuses in doing just that and the Stooges’ zaniness is collides with the snobby rich or someone who is ‘ the boss.’
But somebody has to die in a murder-mystery and for Dr. Sergi Povitch- the bell is tolling. How would Dr. Povitch just croak at his telescope? At first Jones thinks it’s a heart attack. But the medical examiner, Clayton Morris finds that the Doctor was……..POISONED!
Oh dear oh dear who would want to poison the good doctor? Who would have the motive? Who would have the means? Who would have the opportunity? Who-Who-Who?
Ah ha-We have Gallagher who served Povitch his last meal but could not contain his anger at the doctor. Jones’s star player Duff whose secret drug problem, known to only Dr. Povitch. And what about Povitch’s companion Elsie McIntire? Was she just after his money? Many times, when I’m writing a Jones book, I let the culprit float out there for a while and maybe even change the murderer. Helping Jones solve the murder is the ever-incompetent Bucky. I like to bring in a flamboyant character to muck up the investigation or sometimes help the investigation. And also important the connections to local Club Max- owner Cocoa Stefani brings the sometime naïve Jones from Indiana into a world of high-powered Mafia figures ans nefarious characters.
And let’s look at a few other templates from 1960’s TV series. I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s probably more important than the mystery aspects of the Matthias Jones books. In Hogans Heroes the characters around Hogan and his operation are ‘out to lunch for sure.’ Colonel Klink has distinct character eccentricities. Klink plays the violin and rather badly although Werner Klemperer could do very well with the violin. Schultz eats too much, knows nothing and sees nothing and is chummy with the prisoners. John Banner who played Schultz once there should be more people like Schultz in the world. And in the Hogan’s series there is always a character popping into camp who drives the rest of the show and has distinct attributes.
The series Newhart again brought in zany characters, highlighted by Larry and the two Darryls. Going to infinity and beyond to suspend disbelief were shows like Gilligan’s Island, I dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. In Green Acres many of these Bobble heads are all around Eddie Albert who is competent and has been a lawyer in New York, yet they think he’s the odd duck. I like to put Jones in those situations. These types of characters can have some device or plan that sweeps everyone else along though the episode. Also, Major Hochstetter, always a threat, shows up sporadically in the episodes. So does Burkhalter with a little more power. This produces variety and a tension in the episode. Bucky is the culprit in the Povitch book, showing up-to mess up.
Last but not least and you see it in every repeating book and TV show. The relationship of the characters. Take Star Trek the original series. Even though you might marvel at the science fiction or the far away planets or the unconquerable foes, it all revolves around the relationship of Kirk, Spock and McCoy as well as Chekov, Sulu, And Uhura. Holding the ship together is Scotty. The venue is different, but the mechanic are the same.
That’s what subtly influenced Matthias Jones with settings taken from places I’ve lived, worked or gone to school. I didn’t outline the series using shows or movies as a temple, but they were stuck in my brain and tumbled out into the books or audio.
As for Dr. Povitch- He’s still dead.
See you next week, Same time, same station.
Robert P. Fitton