Macmillan, London /St Martin's Press, NY (1988)
My seventh novel, published Macmillan,
Press, NY 1988. Hardback, paperback (US only), large
Frank Derwent (FD to everyone in the business), the
multibillion-dollar director and Hollywood hotshot, has
come to western Scotland to shoot a simple movie of love
gone wrong. But most of the real action here happens
off-screen. If you could put secrets in a box, the things
this cast is hiding would be too large to carry.
Still, the show must go on. Unless
someone is murdered, of course – and that someone is Barbara, the budding
starlet, who also happens to be FD’s nineteen-year-old
mistress. Not quite as sweet as she seemed, the wee lass
knew how to blackmail like a professional.
Although clever Detective Patterson
is on call to lend the local bobby a hand, he can’t
prevent a second murder. And when a third dead body
makes everyone suspect
one another, even Patterson discovers that no one is
safe from his past…
What was the idea behind Murder Movie?
I got the idea for the book when watching something about
the making of a film. A film-crew on location is another
confined group of people, and of course actors and
film-makers have deception as their stock-in-trade.
Scenes from the film White Nights had been shot in
Machrihanish, which those of you who’ve read
my autobiography will know is on the Mull of Kintyre – my
original neck of the woods. I thought it would be nice
to have the west coast of Scotland as a setting. And
I gave it a resident rock star, à la Paul McCartney.
Why is it so different from your other books?
The story is about two movies – the one being shot,
and one made years earlier by the female star of that
movie. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a serious
novel – it was going to be a tongue-in-cheek homage
to the good-fun American mystery movie, and have all
the stereotypical characters and stunts that you’d
expect to see. So I decided to write it as though it
were a movie – no smells, no tastes, no textures,
no inner thoughts, just what you could see and what you
could hear. It’s got long shots, tracking shots,
close-ups, establishing shots…I just liked the
Did anyone else?
Some did – mostly in America. Over here, people
seemed to take it seriously, which baffles me. I’ve
got practically an entire Hollywood film crew being bumped
off in spectacularly unlikely ways in a very small Scottish
town, with a Chief Super from Glasgow and the local bobby
solving the murders with considerable help from the leading
man, for a start. And at the end, it’s got credits
in which you find that the initials of the characters’ names
(and indeed everything else) are derived from their stereotypes:
the Bimbo Starlet is Barbara Slaney, the Matinee Idol
is Mark Ingram, the Soap Queen is Sue Quentin, the rock
band is Restless Bodies, and so on. It’s got a
soundtrack, for goodness’ sake, and it ends – after
the credits – on a freeze-frame! How could anyone
think it was serious? The Americans got the joke, thank
So how were the reviews this time?
Over here, polite but baffled. In the States, very generous.
And my favourite one was from the Los Angeles Times,
which said that ‘the author knows her way around
a film set’. Since I had never set foot on a
film set (I have since, and I was pleased to find that
it didn’t differ much from my imagined one) that
comment was music to my ears, coming as it did from
someone in the film capital of the world. I did a great
deal of research for Murder Movie, and it seems to
have been worth it.
Have you thought of actually writing the novel that
was being filmed in Murder Movie?
My editor at the time said that she really liked the
sound of Three Clear Sundays (billed in the ‘credits’ as
The Critical Success). I suspect she liked it better
than Murder Movie itself. I might give the idea some
serious thought, if ever I have time to indulge myself.
It would require yet more research, of course, being
set in Victorian times.