A trip back in time to the 1950s world of my novels, "Last of the Seals," “Deadly Plunge,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Fog City Strangler,” and my new novel “Shadows In The Fog,” is full of reminders how much the world has changed.
One of the most obvious changes involves the social mores surrounding smoking. In “Shadows In The Fog” the characters rarely have five minutes of conversation before they start lighting up.
My main female character, Amelia, even tries to light a cigarette while she’s on a wind swept water taxi going out to Alcatraz. I’ve been out on San Francisco Bay on a boat to Alcatraz. You can hardly stand up straight because of the wind, let alone light a cigarette.
Sam Slater’s cigarette case actually saves his life during a shooting in “Shadows In The Fog.” He quips to Amelia, “who says cigarettes are bad for your health.”
When I began my career in the corporate world in the 1970s, I remember conference rooms being smoke filled with ash tray spilling over with cigarette butts and ashes.
I remember the smoking sections on airplanes. I remember being in the last row of the non smoking section which was pretty much the same as sitting in the smoking section.
Flight attendants still warn you on airplane flights to not smoke in the bathrooms. That warning is about 35 years old now.
Today smokers must huddle around the doorways of office buildings to grab a cigarette outside. There are enclosed rooms at airports for smokers. That's fine with me but it has been a monumental change.
In today’s business world it would be considered appalling if in the middle of an office, someone lit up a cigarette.
In the 1950s, smoking was even more pronounced. My grandparents were both chain smokers and I remember as a child or a teenager, that you could actually see smoke rolling out the door when you entered their house. I was exposed to massive amounts of second hand smoke for years.
My grandparents are long gone but when I picture them in my mind’s eye, they are holding a cigarette.
In my mystery novels set in the 1950s, everyone smokes and pretty much non stop. They are constantly lighting up--even baseball players like Sam Slater.
Sophisticated, glamorous San Franciscans of the 1950s, like Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan nearly always had a cigarette in their hands. Watch movies from the 1950s or 1960s to witness how it was just part the persona of the attractive, urbane persona. Watch an old “Tonight Show” when Johnny Carson smokes one cigarette after another with guests like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.
In “Shadows In The Fog” the first thing everyone does when they are in a stressful situation is to light up a cigarette. When Amelia escapes after being kidnapped by gangsters, she immediately reaches for a cigarette to light up as they recover from the trauma.
I’ve watched vintage cigarette commercials which played on television in the 1950s. They are funny but somewhat disturbing when you look back on them with our knowledge about the impact on health from cigarettes.
Brands like Kool and Newport touted the soothing effect on a raw throat from their filtered cigarettes. There is a famous ad for Camel’s cigarettes which includes the tag line “According to a recent Nationwide survey: More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.”
When Sam and Amelia visit Dr. John O’Dell in an earlier book in the mystery series, “San Francisco Secrets”, the first thing the medical doctor offers the couple is a cigarette. At their first meeting, Sam asks the doctor if cigarettes are bad for your health.
Dr. O’Dell advises Sam “there are benefits of smoking as long as you don’t overdo it. I think smoking filtered cigarettes like these Winstons helps,” the doctor says. “It cuts down on the irritation to the throat. Smoking actually releases a couple of chemicals in the brain, which relieves tension and helps you experience pleasure.”
The doctor also tells Sam that smoking can aid in weight loss and releases chemicals in the brain which are similar to the sensation that you experience when you kiss a pretty woman.
The doctor’s advice is the common thinking of the times and the narrative from the tobacco companies. Dr. O’Dell tries to convince Sam that smoking a cigarette is almost as pleasurable as kissing Amelia. Sam’s not buying that argument.
Ah, the 1950s, when you could eat a steak dinner, light up an after dinner cigarette and not feel a bit guilty. Ignorance is bliss I guess.
Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg retired from the corporate world and now lives in South Jordan, Utah with his wife of over 40 years, Carol Madsen Messel. They have three adult children who are married and have 11 grandchildren.
Greg has written eight novels. His latest is "Shadows In The Fog" which is the fifth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. "Fog City Strangler," "San Francisco Secrets," "Deadly Plunge" are sequels to the first book in the series "Last of the Seals." His other three novels are "Sunbreaks," "Expiation" and "The Illusion of Certainty."
Greg is currently working on his ninth novel--the sixth in the mystery series--"Cable Car Mystery"--which will be published in late 2015.
About the Book
The story begins on a stormy morning in February of 1959. The front page of the morning paper is dominated by news of the plane crash which killed rock ’n roll stars Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens.
Private Eye Sam Slater is hired to perform what he thinks is a routine two-day job as a favor for a friend. However, it all goes terribly wrong when a young San Francisco policeman is gunned down while sitting in a parked car with Sam.
The murder sets off a chain of events which will pull Sam and his wife and partner, Amelia, into a dangerous web of intrigue in the dark, shadowy alleys and back rooms of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
In the winter of 1959, Amelia resigns as a TWA stewardess and is now Sam’s full time partner in the private eye business.
Sam and Amelia inadvertently come in conflict with the San Francisco mob boss after helping a crusading newspaper reporter who is working to expose corruption in Chinatown. Now a mysterious dark car follows the Slaters every where they go. Sam and Amelia discover a hidden world of corrupt cops, gambling parlors, brothels and human trafficking exists right under their noses.
At the same time, a rising California politician hires Sam and Amelia to find his daughter who disappeared without a trace three years earlier. The search is prompted by the sudden appearance of a letter from the woman, who was presumed dead.
As Sam and Amelia pursue these cases, they discover that all the clues lead them back to Chinatown. The Slaters want to avoid taking on the San Francisco crime lords head-on. However, when Amelia is kidnapped in an alley during the Chinese New Year’s celebration, Sam plunges himself into danger desperately searching Chinatown to find her before it’s too late.
The reader will be drawn into fast moving events which culminate in a harrowing conclusion as Sam Slater races against the clock on a foggy night in Chinatown.
“Shadows In The Fog” is the fifth book in the the award winning Sam Slater Mysteries Series but is a stand-alone thriller in the tradition of great whodunits.