A down-on-his-luck septuagenarian ex-private investigator receives an outrageous offer that he’d love to refuse, in Woodstock author Larry Beinhart’s new novel, The Deal Goes Down (published by Melville House, to be released August 9).
Tony Casella’s wife and daughter are dead and he’s about to lose his Woodstock home when the offer comes around, and, well, you know, work is work, and somehow he gets sucked in.
“What I’m doing in the book is telling a story and working out how that would work,” says Beinhart on a sunny morning at Bread Alone, a site that’s also in the book where a minor character named ‘Larry Beinhart’ hangs out each morning, “and it’s about a person who’s encountering a world, and I guess it’s my view of what that world is, that infuses that interaction…This book was fun to write. You don’t have to realize that there are ideas here, as long as it goes down easy.”
But there are some ideas here. In his past work — another nine or so novels, including American Hero, which was made into the hit movie Wag the Dog, and Edgar Award winner No One Rides for Free, along with journalism and magazine work — Beinhart can be an incisive, biting critic of modern society.
The Deal Goes Down is Beinhart’s fourth book about private eye Casella.
“It starts back in the late 1970s…The first one [was written] probably, 82-83, but it’s a late 70s book. It takes place during the rise of the corporations, that period when corporate financial entities started moving away from their size being related to what they were actually manufacturing, but started conglomerating and doing takeovers. Second one takes place in the 80s in the age of Reagan, which is the time when government moves from either being an opponent or a balance to big money and marries it, quite publicly and enthusiastically…I thought that there were things wrong with that. And you get to 89-90, the year the [Berlin] wall comes down and it was a time of great relief and hope and optimism.
“That story [in the new book] about being in Prague when Vaclav Havel came through and there were 200,000 people singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in Czech — I was there, that happened and it was great and incredibly moving. I’m standing there going, I know this song, what is this song…
“Everything was supposed to follow into that joy and happiness of that moment, no more conflict. And it actually felt like that. And that book (No One Rides for Free) is a very optimistic, positive book, and that’s where I left the guy, 30 years ago.
“But what happened is that [society] devoured itself, so you get to a point where money has no opposition and it gets bigger and bigger and it gets so big that it overwhelms everything else and you have this economic theory — that is, what you pay for something is its actual value. You pay a lot for something very valuable, you pay a very little for something, that’s the only objective measure of things…and you actually have the guy saying, hey, I’m getting paid $200,000 per corpse…it must be very valuable.
“In a way, it’s funny…you can read all these books without noticing any of this, as you can with this new one and it’s fun…This was not something I did consciously, something I kind of realized I did afterward, is that there is not anyone in the book that thinks there’s anything of any value about anything except money, there’s nobody who objects on a moral level, on a value level of killing people for money. Even Tony doesn’t. He objects to doing it in a way that he might get caught, and he keeps trying to avoid killing people because he thinks, there’s got to be a better way to get the money out of them without putting ourselves in danger. So anyway, if I wanted to be serious about the book, that’s where I’d go with it.”
“Meantime, the way I intended to be serious about it was thinking about death, because of my age (75), the character’s age, everybody we know, people have been dying. But it came out much lighter than I expected, having fun things happen, rather than grimness. That’s just kind of how it worked itself out.”
Does Beinhart still get asked about Wag the Dog?
“Not much. Sometimes…What people actually ask about is a story that’s in The Deal Goes Down, where the Beinhart character tells about how there is no back end — the more money the movie made, the deeper in the red it got, a true story and kind of amazing…Hollywood accounting…unless you’ve got enough money to go up against them and sue them…
“Hey look, they, and the guys from Salvation Boulevard (another film made from a Beinhart book, that starred Pierce Brosnan), they paid quite decent purchase prices. It was my expectation that that was all I’d ever see, so I didn’t get crazy when it was all I ever saw. It was fine. Wag the Dog was a great movie, I’m proud to be associated with it. Salvation Boulevard was a good movie, I’m sorry it disappeared faster than any movie I’ve ever seen.”
Do you write every day?
“I do if I have a project I think I’m going to sell, or one where I’m hired to. An economics book (that Beinhart wrote buy could not sell) had a great title, it was ‘Rich People Can’t Be Trusted With Money.’ All of that is digested and reflected here, not in a lecturing, analytical way…that’s the world it’s talking about, where money is the only value left standing.”
Larry Beinhart will read from, discuss and sign copies of his new book, The Deal Goes Down, at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 7 in a Golden Notebook bookstore event at Nancy’s Artisanal Creamery in the Petersen House at Bearsville Center, 297 Tinker Street, Woodstock. The reading is free and open to the public. For more information, see https://goldennotebook.indielite.org.