I’m delighted to be welcoming Corey Recko to my hot seat today. Death of a Kootch Show Girl is Corey’s first fictional book.
Corey Recko’s first book, Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain, won the Wild West History Association’s award for the “Best Book on Wild West History” for 2007. New Mexico Magazine said of the book, “The story moves along like detective fiction…” Of his second book, A Spy for the Union: The Life and Execution of Timothy Webster, the Civil War News review of the book concluded, “Just about everyone will find something to like in this tale of Civil War espionage that mixes in portions of heroism, intrigue, cowardice, and betrayal.” Along with books, Recko has written articles on a variety of historical topics for magazines and historical journals and has become a sought-after speaker (including an appearance on C-SPAN). Death of a Kootch Show Girl, a mystery about a death at a small-town carnival in 1953, is Recko’s first novel.
Connect with Corey Recko
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Death of a Kootch Show Girl in 20 words or less.
It’s is a mystery about a death at a small-town carnival in 1953.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
I was in my car listening to a Mick Ronson album, and the song “The Empty Bed” came on. The song opens with the narrator lighting a cigarette and ends when the cigarette goes out. I thought this would be a good device for something set in the 1950s. Then I began thinking I’d like to write something that takes place then and by the time I arrived home I had a rough idea worked out in my head.
Please tell us about the characters in your novel.
The novel is narrated by five characters. The main character is a reporter for a small-town paper. He just turned thirty and is down on his life—depressed that he’s still working in such a small-town. The death at the local carnival becomes an opportunity for him. The local police chief, who personally takes on the case because of lack of interest by the county, narrates the investigation. The other three narrators are carnies. Arianna is a young stripper who is frustrated with her life and the role of females in society. Otto is an eccentric clown with a mysterious past. Bill Harris owns the carnival. Despite his slovenly appearance and his occasional butchery of the English language, he’s a good guy and good owner.
Did you do any research for your book? What resources did you use?
During the writing process, I spent a lot of time enjoying books, music, and movies that were made in the early 1950s, just to immerse myself in the time period. My two main sources for keeping the investigation true to the period were the non-fiction books Crime Investigation: Physical Evidence and the Police Laboratory (1953) by Paul Leland Kirk and Science the Super Sleuth (1954) by Lynn Poole. As for carnival life, which I wanted to make true to life, I relied on several non-fiction books and a few websites. I wish I could list them all, but, unlike my non-fiction work where I keep all of my research, for Death of a Kootch Show Girl I discarded most of it after using it, so I’m going off memory. The most important book for the carnival research was Carnival (1970) by Arthur H. Lewis. I also read the Cleveland (since the book takes place in Northeast Ohio) newspaper the Plain Dealer for the week in 1953 that the story takes place. This helped me know what types of stories the reporter would be dealing with as competition.
How do your characters come into existence Corey? Do they have a bio?
Different characters were conceived at different stages. Yes, they do have a biography: both a back story and where they’ll end up long after the book ends. While writing this book, some of the characters were also influenced by, or named after, other people or characters. For example, Otto Radowski, the clown, is named after (first name only) the character of Otto in the Brian De Palma movie Murder a la Mod. William Finley played that character in a very clown like way, and a few of Otto’s mannerisms were based on Findley’s. Another character is very loosely based on the filmmaker Ed Wood (I won’t say who, but Ed Wood fans will be able to figure it out). I took a few pieces of Wood’s backstory for the character and made him look like Wood.
If your book is part of a series, what is in the future?
It was never intended to be part of a series. However, it’s possible I may write about one of the characters again. I think where this person will be in the 1960s could be interesting.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
Because my start as an author was with nonfiction western history, my biggest influences have been writers from that field. I can’t say enough about Frederick Nolan and Leon Metz. I was a huge fan of their work before I ever became a writer, and both were very helpful with their critiques of my first book, Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain. Robert Utley’s Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life and High Noon in Lincoln: Violence on the Western Frontier were also a big influence. And can’t thank authors Gordon Owen and Chuck Parsons enough for their assistance with that first book. Other major influences include Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Finally Corey, can you share what you’re working on now?
I always have multiple projects going at once. The next that will be ready for publication (one article and one book) are both nonfiction and deal with murders and corruption in territorial New Mexico.
Thank you for being my guest today.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects Corey.
Publisher: Black Opal Books (23 Feb. 2017)
It’s Halloween night 1953, the last night of the carnival in rural Ohio, and a stripper turns up dead. Tom Davis, the chief of police, orders the carnies to stay in town while he investigates, but there are no leads to Mary’s killer—no fingerprints on the murder weapon, no blood but Mary’s at the scene, no foreign hairs or fibers—no clues of any kind. Brian Stockton, a reporter for the local paper, hopes this will be his break into the big time, so he begins to investigate as well. But, alas, the killer’s identity eludes him, too. As tensions build, the carnies become paranoid, pointing fingers at each other. Could it be the owner, Bill Harris, the one who discovered the body? Or was it perhaps Gino Guglielmo, the man who runs the kootch show and has a nasty temper? Was it the eccentric clown, Otto Radowski, a man with dark secrets in his past and who just happens to have Mary’s cat? And how did the killer manage to commit such a violent act without leaving a single speck of evidence? Mary certainly wasn’t killed by a ghost…or was she?