FUNNY ABOUT MURDER: A Review of Scandal at the Savoy in BC Bookworld

Funny About Murder

BC author mines her time at iconic British hotel for murder mystery stories.

May 24th, 2023

by John Moore

For obvious reasons most murder mysteries are long on terror and short on humour other than the deadpan gallows variety exemplified by old Raymond Chandler novels. There have been novels, TV series and films featuring witty or comical detectives and even amusing killers (the film version of the board game ClueSleuthAmerican Psycho and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, etc.), but they tend to satirize familiar situations of the genre so broadly that they end up in Parody, (next door to Purgatory on Google Maps). It’s rare to find a novel like Scandal at the Savoy (D&M $19.95), co-authored by Prudence Emery and Ron Base, that can maintain suspense and genuine interest in the characters while delivering Laugh Out Loud moments every four or five pages.

Like the first novel in this series, Death at the Savoy (D&M, 2022), this too is set in the prestigious Savoy Hotel during the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and brilliantly evokes the period when A-list celebrities and international politicians, not just pop-stars, still needed the validation of being “seen” in London, not B-List burgs like New York or Los Angeles. Priscilla Tempest is a young Canadian woman in charge of public relations for the grande dame of London hostelries. Saddled with a moniker more appropriate to the heroine of a bodice-ripping novel set in a faux-historical England, (another bit of authorial tongue-in-cheek), Priscilla becomes a real damsel in distress when her already demanding job is complicated by the murder of a showgirl appearing in the Savoy’s cabaret headlined by aging British film siren, Diana Dors.

Younger readers may have to redline their search engines looking up all the Sixties stars who make cameo and walk-on appearances, but the history lesson will be rewarding. Those who remember the Sixties will cackle with satisfaction at the fictional resurrection of so many global celebrities whose careers proved it’s possible to be famous for more than fifteen minutes. Among them is Canada’s youthful bachelor Prime Minister, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, who sweeps Priscilla out of a star-studded Savoy cocktail reception and out of her Mary Quant mini-dress for a five-star one night stand.

For any Savoy employee, creeping out of a guest’s suite early in the morning is a career-ending move, but unemployment quickly becomes the least of her worries when the strangled corpse of showgirl Skye Kane is discovered in a dressing room at the hotel. Priscilla tells Scotland Yard detectives that during the party, in the Ladies room, she met Skye, who had been slapped and threatened with death by notoriously short-fused American theatrical producer, David Merrick.

Before he married, Prime Minister Trudeau was a noted lady’s man in the late 60s.

From that plot point, Scandal at the Savoy becomes a deliciously dark farce exposing the sleazy underside of the glamorous Carnaby Street-designed facade London showed to the world. It was a milieu in which celebrity gangsters like the notorious Kray Twins mingled with pop stars, famous actors, Members of Parliament and Commonwealth Prime Ministers with predictable results; blackmail, scandal and what Scotland Yard calls “suspicious deaths.”

As in the film True Romance, supporting actors steal this show. The trio of Savoy regulars, playwright Noel Coward and actors Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, resemble the three witches in MacBeth if their dialogue had been re-written by Oscar Wilde. At the initial cocktail party, one of them refers to the despised Merrick as ‘the Abominable Showman’ and the quips just keep on coming. Not content to play the role of Chorus in the play, they get stuck right in to aid their friend Priscilla, tailing gangsters through the means streets of London’s rough East End in Olivier’s Bentley and helping her rescue Diana Dors from the Kray twins. No more spoilers…you’ll have to read the book.

Nanaimo-born Prudence Emery worked for many years as the press and public relations officer for the Savoy Hotel. She’s now happily mining her memories of that career in collaboration with Ron Base, the Milton, Ontario. novelist who has authored his own series of Sanibel Sunset mystery novels, many set on the Florida islands of Sanibel and Captiva. One of the principal charms of the mystery genre is that murder provides authors and their fictional investigators with a moral pretext to expose the ‘best’ people on their worst behaviour. Prudence Emery and Ron Base have come up with a new twist on the old formula that’s five-star all the way to the last morsel.

Death at the Savoy and Scandal at the Savoy can be ordered online or from your favorite independent bookstore. They are also available as ebooks on Amazon and as audio books…

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized


In addition to point-of-sale displays, magazine ads, posters in train stations, Éditions de La Martinière, the French publisher of Bienvenue á L’Hôtel Savoy (Death at the Savoy), has now produced elegant key chains to help promote the book.

Co-author Prudence Emery and I are absolutely dazzled by what the French are doing. We shake our heads in amazement remembering that all this started with a phone call, two old (well, not that old) friends reconnecting, deciding one way to keep in touch might be to collaborate on a mystery novel…. who knew?

You can unlock the mysteries of the English language versions of both Death at the Savoy and its successor, Scandal at the Savoy, simply by clicking on the link below. Both books are also available in an audio format.


Death at the Savoy and Scandal at the Savoy are available


Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Novel In Hand: The Sanibel Sunset Detective Goes to the Movies…

Finally received a print copy of The Sanibel Sunset Detective Goes to the Movies. As always, there is a moment of sheer, head-shaking amazement and delight when you hold a new novel in your hands for the first time.

I am grateful to everyone who worked so hard on the fourteenth Tree Callister adventure and made all the angst and uncertainty worth it: Jennifer Smith for the smashing cover, Ric Base for his elegant interior design and execution, and Bryan James Simpson who did such a great job editing the book.

Many thanks also to my wife, Kathy, for reading draft after draft and paid no attention to my loud announcements that I was never going to write another novel…

For Canadian readers, the most reliable way to order a print copy of the book is through Chapters-Indigo. They offer it at a reasonable price and deliver within the week. The link to the book at Chapters is HERE.

The ebook version of The Sanibel Sunset Detective Goes to the Movies is available HERE.

American readers can order their print copy HERE.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

My Best Pal, Harry

I wasn’t sure what I would encounter as I drove down from Toronto to Hamilton to meet Harry Belafonte.

A bit surprised to learn that he was still even doing concerts, I thought of him more as the passionate civil rights activist, now, rather than as either a singer who had gained such immense fame in the mid-1950s, or as a movie star—he hadn’t made a movie in years.

Once before, in 1972,. I had met him when he and his friend Sidney Poitier were in Detroit promoting Buck and the Preacher, the western in which they had co-starred. Poitier had been the more reticent of the two. Belafonte was much more loquacious. It might have been the chaotic times back then, but both men were guarded, keeping their cool and their distance. I was anticipating much the same sort of experience meeting Belafonte a second time.

He was waiting for me in a reception room backstage at Hamilton Place Theatre where he would be performing that night. Tall and certainly imposing, he  wore a peaked cap and was dressed casually in a tan button-down sweater. Instead of the carefully reserved actor I had met years before, this Harry Belafonte on a Saturday afternoon was warm and chatty, not at all guarded, that husky baritone of his filling the room with bursts of laughter.

With Belafonte relaxing on a sofa, for the next three hours or so, without a publicist in sight, we talked about everything under the sun. The journalist Base demanded that I must not allow myself to be so completely charmed. The highly impressionable Base chatting away with his best pal in the world, for the afternoon, anyway, was totally charmed.

That night, Belafonte’s  easy charm was on full display for a sold-out crowd of over two thousand. The peaked cap was gone and so was the casual sweater, replaced by the form-fitting open-necked shirt and the hip-hugging slacks that made up the constant of his live performance costume.

Once again, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would he have updated his original act, added a dose of the activism that had consumed much of his life? Nope, none of that. Perhaps because he was performing in Canada or maybe because it had never been part of his show in the first place, there was no hint of politics.

Instead, he gave the sort of traditional concert he probably had been doing since the 1950s, complete with calypso standards dating back to my childhood when the Belafonte at Carnegie Hall album got big play in our apartment: “Come Back Liza,” “Jamaica Farewell” and, of course, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).”

His audience was swept away by those songs, that baritone voice, and his magnetism—as was I.

Hearing of his death at the age of 96, I didn’t think so much about the legendary performer or the dedicated activist. I thought about Harry, for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, my best pal in the world.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Robert Blake With His Pants Down

Long before he was notoriously tried and acquitted of murdering his wife, when he was at the top of his career, the actor Robert Blake was waiting in his trailer when I got to the set of Second-Hand Hearts, the movie he was shooting just outside El Paso, Texas.

Blake had been an actor since he was five, one of the Our Gang kids (aka The Little Rascals), had appeared briefly as a Mexican boy selling Humphrey Bogart a lottery ticket in the opening scenes of John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre. As an adult he had a breakthrough playing one of the killers in the film version of Truman Capote’s classic true crime book, In Cold Blood.

But real stardom had come on television portraying a tough-talking, unconventional cop named Baretta. The series, which featured a pet cockatoo named Fred, was a hit and had turned Blake’s life around.

He welcomed me in his small, cramped trailer, a gruff, fast-talking little guy, his gray-flecked black hair cropped short, surprised and delighted by his unexpected but hard-won stardom.

I don’t remember him ever being called to the set while I was there and so we talked through the night. Blake seemed edgy but open and vulnerable, talking about his fights to make Baretta better than it otherwise would have been, and his troubled, hard-scrabble childhood. You could not help but like him.

 We ended up discussing VCR players which were then becoming all the rage. He didn’t have one, and wondered about the expense. Then he shrugged. “What the hell,” he said with a crooked grin. “I’m rich. I’m gonna get me one.”

The door opened and in came an assistant armed with a syringe. “Time for my vitamin-B shot,” Blake announced. He stood up facing me and dropped his trousers and underpants. The assistant knelt behind him and plunged the syringe into his behind.

I sat there while Blake struggled back into his underpants. That night outside El Paso, he had let everything hang out, in ways I would never have expected.

Years later, in Los Angeles, accompanying veteran producer Shel Pinchuk, I arrived for a meeting at the green-glass fortress on Wilshire Boulevard that was ICM. At the time it was one of the biggest talent agencies in town.

The meeting ended early in the evening. Waiting for the elevator, who should come along but Robert Blake. By then his career was on the skids. He wasn’t doing much of anything. Second-Hand Hearts had been shot in 1979, plagued by problems, not because of Blake but due to the behavior of its director, Hal Ashby. Released briefly in 1981, the movie quickly disappeared.

Blake didn’t remember me, of course, but the three of us nodded hellos and then together stepped onto the elevator.

As the elevator slowly descended, the last rays of the dying sun seeped through the glass structure illuminating in shades of red and gold floor after silent floor of desks and shelves stuffed with scripts. I glanced at Blake. He was shaking his head.

“Jesus,” he said in disbelief. “Just think. This whole f**king place is full of agents.”

Shel and I both laughed as the elevator reached the ground floor. I watched Robert Blake, who has now died at the age of 89, disappear into the gloom along Wilshire Boulevard.

Robert Blake with Hal Ashby
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

A Star Is Recognized: Remembering Gordon Pinsent

Gordon Pinsent was making a movie called Klondike Fever in Barkerville, a snowbound middle-of-nowhere British Columbia town deep in the province’s mountainous interior.

He was co-starring with Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson, iconic American stars who by then were somewhat past their prime.

I arrived in town to do a magazine piece on Gordon. As an actor, writer, raconteur, and hard-working jack of all artistic trades, I had known Gordon slightly, mostly through his good friend Larry Dane. I got to know him a whole lot better hanging around the set of Klondike Fever. As always, Gordon was welcoming and friendly, a delight to spend time with.

Stranded in Barkerville, he and Rod Steiger had become pals.

The Academy Award-winning star of On The Waterfront and In the Heat of the Night was a man who carried the weight of a complicated life on his shoulders, but he carried it with a certain merry glint in his eye.

The glint in Gordon’s eye was equally merry but with a bit of roguishness thrown in for good measure. He never seemed too weighted down by life. Nonetheless, he and Steiger saw themselves as kindred spirits, stranded in a British Columbia snowbank. They obviously got a big kick out of each other.

One day, when he finished filming, Gordon asked me if I wanted to go to lunch. Sure, I said. He then turned to Rod Steiger and asked him to join us. Steiger grimaced and said he didn’t want to go out. Every time he did, people bothered him. It was too much.

Gordon pushed and finally persuaded a very reluctant Steiger to join us. Arriving at a nearly deserted restaurant, a server hurried over to greet us. As she did, her eyes widened in recognition.

Steiger groaned and shook his head. “I knew it,” he said in despair. “I knew this was going to happen.”

The server drew closer and now she was smiling happily. “Gordon!” she exclaimed. “Gordon Pinsent!”

Gordon warmly shook her hand while Steiger’s face fell. The server, excited to have Gordon Pinsent in her establishment, led us to a table. By now aware of his deflated friend, Gordon tried to share the spotlight.

 “By the way,” he said to the server. “I’d like you to meet my good friend, Rod Steiger.”

The server beamed at him as she shook his hand. “Rob…” she said enthusiastically. “It’s so nice to meet you.”

Steiger looked more deflated than ever.

Klondike Fever never amounted to much, but I’ve dined out on that story for years.  I’ve taken great pleasure in reminding Gordon of it any time I ran into him. I do believe he took equal pleasure in hearing it. In fact, a version of the story appeared in Next, Gordon’s autobiography written with George Anthony.

I thought of it again this morning, hearing the sad news of Gordon’s death at the age of 92. As Rod Steiger learned that day at lunch in Barkerville, Gordon was something unusual in this country—a true Canadian star.

And something else too—a great guy.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

SCANDAL AT THE SAVOY: The Rogues Gallery Of Characters

Scandal at the Savoy will be published March 25, 2023. You can order the second installment in the Priscilla Tempest Mysteries HERE


Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized


Back in the days when I was writing about television, if I needed some cogent, insightful conversation about the CBC or broadcasting in general, I would drop into Peter Herrndorf’s Toronto office at the corner of Bay and College streets.

At the time, if memory serves, Peter was the network’s vice-president of current affairs. He was tall, imposing, endlessly affable and welcoming. Like Sean Connery, Peter made baldness seem like a good idea. He was usually in shirtsleeves in an era when network executives made sure their suit jackets were buttoned when they met the press.

You didn’t have to spend much time with him before the realization struck that you were listening to the proverbial smartest guy in the room, one of the most intelligent, articulate people you were ever going to meet.

I used to think, When I grow up, I want to be Peter Herrndorf.

I was never going to measure up, of course, but that was okay because Peter dressed his innate intelligence with a warmth and charm that while you were with him, made you believe you were his best pal ever.

I never was his pal, but I was certainly a constant admirer. I was hardly alone, judging by the outpouring of praise accompanying the shock and grief following the news of his death at the age of 82.

He is survived by his wife, the remarkable Eva Czigler, who I knew at the CBC before I met Peter. If anyone could match his charm, it was Eva. They were an absolutely dazzling couple.

Peter occupied a dizzying series of arts and media chairs in the years following our Bay Street conversations, an influential mover and shaker whether he was at the CBC, publishing Toronto Life magazine, heading TVO or running the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Yet any time I ran into him—and by now he was the country’s bearded grey ‘godfather of Canadian arts,’ as the Globe and Mail called him—he was still…well, Peter, warm and welcoming, making you feel all over again like you were his best pal.

I hadn’t seen him for years when I encountered him in a downtown Toronto restaurant. He was with Claire Speed, my wife’s cousin, who had worked with him at the arts center in Ottawa. Ironically, she had just presented him with a copy of a novel I had written. When I came over, Peter beamed with pleasure, warmly shook my hand, and said he couldn’t wait to read the book.

It was the last time I ever saw him.

I thought about that moment with him when I heard the news of his death, hardly able to believe it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all these years later, nothing has changed.

I still want to be Peter Herrndorf when I grow up.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

A Farewell to Sanibel

I lost it on Sanibel Island the other day visiting the yellow cottage that used to be Gene’s Books.

For years, I did book signings in the garden behind the cottage or else in the bookshop itself, surrounded by—drowning in!—the books owner Gene Massey brought in endlessly, sometimes by the pallet load. There were so many books that making your way through the shop was like navigating a delightful maze.

We sold hundreds of Sanibel Sunset Detective novels out of that little cottage. I met readers from all over North America and Europe. Heard endlessly fascinating stories.

 Now it is all gone, washed away by one of America’s worst hurricanes. So much of Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach went away with Gene’s.  The Sanibel Sunset Detective and his author are very minor victims of the tragedy that unfolded when the storm hit. Standing inside the dark, empty shell that is what’s left of Gene’s, choking back emotion, I was struck by the finality of what has happened. Gene’s will not come back, and who knows how long it will take the islands to return to any sense of what they were before.

Along Periwinkle Way, the main island thoroughfare, it isn’t hard to be momentarily convinced that things aren’t so bad. Then you reach Bailey’s General Store, one of the island’s long-enduring landmarks, now a boarded-up derelict that must be totally rebuilt.

 As you turn onto Sanibel Captiva Road, the full force of the devastation unfolds itself in miles of twisted dead vegetation. The proud, towering palms, the verdant green of undergrowth on either side of the roadway have become an ugly brown No Man’s Land. Impressive mansion-like homes, once hidden from view, are exposed on a wasted landscape.

Andy Rosse Lane on Captiva Island, home, in the Sanibel Sunset Detective novels to Tree Callister and his wife, Freddie, has been reduced to a bleak throughfare, flanked by dead trees.

Somehow the Mucky Duck, a Captiva institution at the end of the street, mostly survived, amazing since it is little more than a ramshackle one-story affair perched on the ground near the water. It recently reopened and last week patrons were lined up early for lunch.

Fort Myers Beach, no matter how much you have heard about its ruin, still comes as a shock. It’s been described as looking like a war zone, an all-too fitting description of the scene that unfolds as you pass a tangled mass of drydocked pleasure and fishing boats, coming off the Sky Bridge onto the island.

If you were told that a battle had been fought along Estero Boulevard, the main drag, blighted by collapsed structures and piles of debris, you would believe it. You have to remind yourself that the vast empty stretches along the boulevard not long ago were choc-a-block with storefronts and mobile home parks.

The rickety, old-Florida charm that was Times Square, adjacent to the bridge, has been wiped out. The square itself is now a parking lot ($5, cash, please), and the pier at the end is gone save for a few forlorn pilings. The Washington Post reports it may take up to ten years for the area to fully recover.

Hard to believe then the sight of tourists lugging beach chairs, heedlessly crossing the broken remnants of Times Square to sun bathe on the beach—the ultimate act of whistling past the graveyard, one imagines.

Visiting the places where for years I pursued the business of selling books and meeting readers, remembering the energetic silliness of a crowded Times Square on a Friday night; the early excitement of meeting readers at Baileys; spending Luminary, the pre-Christmas celebration on Captiva Island at an Andy Rosse Lane street corner, signing books by candlelight; Tuesdays outside Annette’s Book Nook at the now-boarded-up Santini Mall; meeting longtime readers each season at MacIntosh Books; and, of course, Gene’s yellow cottages…

Standing outside Gene’s, the memories flooded back, those years that gave me a new lease on my professional life when I was all but certain it was over. I have so much to thank the people and the island for. Sanibel will come back. Whether it will ever be quite the same is up for debate. I know it won’t be the same for me. The fallout from the hurricane plays a big part, but age, too, as well as a certain restless need to move on.

Time then to say a bittersweet farewell.

For now…

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized


A one-day rock festival was held at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium Sep. 13, 1969, less than a month after the Woodstock Music Festival took place on a farm outside Bethel, New York. One festival quickly became iconic. The other was mostly forgotten.

Until now.

What became known as Revival 69 featured such legends of rock ’n roll as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard. The headliners were The Doors, at the height of their popularity—and notoriety. The international headline grabber, however, was the surprise appearance of John Lennon along with his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, backed by what became known as the Plastic Ono Band.

I kind of stumbled into it, but was one of the more than twenty thousand people at Varsity Stadium that Saturday—how I helped make rock ’n roll history. I had no idea that anything historic was going on, and neither, I suspect, did most of the crowd in attendance.

The festival for the first time brought together an eclectic group of performers—Chicago was also there, so was Alice Cooper. Most notably, it marked the first time John Lennon performed onstage without the Beatles. A week after he returned to London, he formally quit the group.

Concert footage was shot by D.A. Pennebaker, the renowned documentary filmmaker who did the landmark Bob Dylan film, Dont Look Back. Pennebaker actually put a movie together but despite his towering reputation, apparently no one was interested in a documentary that heavily featured old rockers. The footage languished for years. The concert was all but forgotten. For me, it was a dim memory. Life moved on.

Yet over the years, the festival quietly took on an almost mythical status. It became known as Toronto’s Woodstock. Rolling Stone called it “the second most important event in rock ’roll history.” Who knew?

Now Toronto documentary filmmaker Ron Chapman has tracked down the lost Pennebaker footage, added contemporary interviews with many of the participants, and created Revival69: The Concert that Rocked the World, a superb account of the festival, its stars, and how it came to be.

The performance footage is terrific but what makes Revival 69 unique among concert films is the way Chapman weaves in the behind-the-scenes drama of two maverick Toronto promoters, John Brower and Ken Walker, working against all odds to wrestle success out of what initially looked like a disaster.

The story of how at the last possible moment they convinced John Lennon and Yoko Ono to put together a band and come to Toronto, alone is worth the price of admission. Thrown together overnight, the Plastic Ono Band, which included Eric Clapton, rehearsed at the back of the plane on the way to Toronto. The first time they played together was when they stepped on stage at Varsity Stadium.

I spoke with Chapman in connection with the virtual showing of Revival 69 this weekend at the Milton Film Festival. He pointed out that what Brower and Walker were able to pull off with John and Yoko Ono could never happen today considering the layers of security and management surrounding most performers.

My memory of the concert is of great excitement at Lennon’s sudden appearance, followed by disappointment as Yoko Ono took over, keening loudly and then wailing. Not knowing anything about the crazy, unlikely circumstances surrounding how Lennon and company got there, their performance looked pretty ragged. But, hey, it was John Lennon, the first and last time most of us ever saw him in person.

The veterans, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry, in my memory, stole the show. The headliners, The Doors, appeared last, and whether it was the lateness of the hour or the audience’s restless exhaustion, or a combination of both, Jim Morrison and his bandmates more or less bombed.

Somewhat guiltily, I must admit that for the twenty-year-old me attending the second most important event in rock history, my most vivid memory is of the guy in front of me dancing with his girlfriend while the Doors sang “Light My Fire.” Suddenly, the girlfriend literally threw her boyfriend onto the ground and pounced on him, yanking down his jeans. In the midst of the crowd, as Morrison tried “to set the night on fire,” she proceeded to do just that.

As soon as they finished, seemingly unfazed, they jumped to their feet and resumed dancing. If I wasn’t a memorable part of rock ’n roll history, they certainly were.

(Revival 69: The Concert That Rocked the World is available to stream online at the Milton Film Festival, Jan 25 to Jan 31. The festival, celebrating its tenth anniversary, this weekend is presenting a great film lineup both virtually and with in-person screenings at the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton. For more information click on the link below:

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 843 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: