More than ten years ago—The first crime novel I sold, The Elvis and Marilyn Affair, featured a Los Angeles newspaper columnist, Neil Gulliver, and his ex-wife, “Sex Queen of the Soaps” Stevie Marriner. They were enthusiastically adopted by readers who relished their showbiz-based adventure and wanted more.
Consequently, Neil and Stevie starred in my next three novels, trading loving, lighthearted banter and sharing danger and tight brushes with murder and mayhem that involved marquee names such as James Dean, John Lennon and even Andy Warhol.
They disappeared from view, apart from the occasional short story appearance in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock and other publications over the years.
Gone, but certainly not forgotten, and definitely not because readers had tired of them.
As much as I loved treating their fans to the adventures of Neil and Stevie, I felt trapped. I had never intended to lock myself into a series. There were other characters and other stories I had in me that were anxious to bust loose. So, off I went, in time turning out nine standalones that, happily, kept my readers coming back for more. But—
Their desire for more Neil and Stevie never went away.
At store and library appearances, conferences and conventions, even in social media exchanges, I was asked, “When are you bringing Neil and Stevie back?” “Are you ever going to bring Neil and Stevie back?” “What do you have against Neil and Stevie? What’d they ever do to you?” “The new stuff is fine, but another Neil and Stevie would be finer for me and your other longtime readers, sir.” “It’s more Neil and Stevie or no more me, you get my meaning?”
I always answered by expressing my own affection for Neil and Stevie and leaving open the window of possibility. It arrived one day, about a year and a half ago, when I plopped down in front of my computer and stared at a blank screen, wondering what to follow The Evil Deeds We Do with.
Neil and Stevie?
Okay, yes, sure, why not, if I could figure out how to overcome a major obstacle. By the last of those four early mystery-thrillers, Neil and Stevie had aged substantially and she had moved on from the soaps to stage and movie stardom. Moving forward was certainly possible, but moving backward in time might be closer to what their persistent fans wanted and more fun for me to write.
And that’s how The Stardom Affair came to pass, like a prequel that’s not exactly a prequel:
It's decades ago, when the internet was in its infancy.
Neil is summoned to the apartment of actor Roddy Donaldson, leader of the "Diapered Dozen" gang of teenage movie stars, by condo manager Sharon Glenn. Roddy is in bed clinging to life alongside two dead girls, no memory of who they are or how they got there. Evidence points to him as their killer.
At the urging of Roddy's mother, a prominent casting director, Neil chases after the truth, encountering a motley cast of suspects: among them nasty Nicky Edmunds, co-starring with pal Roddy in Tough Times Two, and glamorous Jayne Madrigal, a high-powered press agent with whom Neil is smitten when Stevie introduces them at a lavish Stardom Magazine gala.
Also: rap superstar Maxie Trotter and his manager, Roscoe Del Ruth; Gene Coburn and Knox Lundigan, millionaire partners in Stardom House companies revolutionizing the internet; model-songstress Aleta Haworth, who knows more than she's telling; fading film star Brian Armstrong, who harbors dark truths; and Stevie's mother, Juliet, and her fiancé, Bernie Flame, a computer whiz who may be able to find answers for Neil in the secret underground world of the Web. More bodies fall and Neil faces an ugly death before the killer of the two girls is revealed.
The comments from early readers, fellow authors whose work I admire, have been extremely generous:
“The author has delivered a fast-paced, surprisingly dark, not-surprisingly witty thriller that includes a scene of movieland sex and violence more nightmarish than anything devised by Nathanael West or David Lynch”—Dick Lochte, award-winning author of Sleeping Dog
“When one of Hollywood's hottest young stars finds himself in a tangle with two dead bodies and almost dead of a drug overdose himself, Neil Gulliver's reporter's instincts are aroused, and he's plunged into an ever darker world of sex, drugs, and murder. The patter is snappy, the writing is sharp, and the observations are pointed as a dagger in another winner from Levinson.”—Bill Crider, award-winning author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes mysteries
“From big box office powerbrokers to L.A.'s seething underworld of designer drugs and porn movies, you're in for the roller-coaster ride of your reading life. But then, it's no surprise –Robert S. Levinson is a master of style and suspense. Buy this book and enjoy!”—Gayle Lynds, New York Times best-selling author of The Assassins
“Robert S. Levinson handles the hardboiled style of storytelling with soft, sure hands. Neil Gulliver continues to be one of the most reliable main characters in the genre. And, along with his ex-wife, Stevie Marriner, they continue to channel Nick & Nora Charles. Reading The Stardom Affair is time well spent.”—Robert J. Randisi, best-selling author of the Rat Pack mysteries.
I’m hopeful (of course) The Stardom Affair will also score positively with Neil and Stevie’s longtime fans and readers unfamiliar with the darling duo. Whichever category you fall into—be advised The Stardom Affair is available now, on line and off, from your favorite bookseller.