Part Three: Always Play the Dark Horse
Now we come to Always Play the Dark Horse, with a cast of characters both new and familiar. Rose Nyquist, Jessica’s professor friend, returns from Dead Man, only this time she helps Jessica navigate academic politics at the College at Margaret Point, even joining Jessica and James to face intrigue and murder. Who better to play this part than the straight-from-the-shoulder, quick-witted Barbara Stanwyck – with a dash of my good friend Kathy Healey, who is also quick-witted and straight-from-the shoulder.
The English Department’s chair is Nigel Cross, a man of powerful character, icy cold control, and a devastating wit to those who try to play cute with him. With those he respects, though, he seems a square shooter. The perfect inspiration for the character, especially the first part of the description? How about Nigel Bennett, well known as the formidable and cool LaCroix on Forever Knight?
Terry Clarke was Jessica’s college boyfriend many years back, in a relationship that didn’t end well when he opted to look for a gal with the do[ugh]-re-mi to restore his family fortunes. Now a professor at Margaret Point College, he’s intelligent, capable, witty, and charming enough to balance out his ego, almost. However, Terry’s also a bit of a ladies’ man, to his wife’s chagrin. My casting choice was the handsome, young Quentin played by David Selby on Dark Shadows. That hint of a Southern accent dovetails nicely with Terry’s Virginia horse-country roots. No Quentin-1897 sideburns, though. But those blue eyes, WOW!
Meanwhile, there’s Carolina Brent Clarke, the wife who resents Terry’s philandering with another teacher who has mysteriously gone missing. Who should inspire the Virginia belle whom Terry thought he could marry for money, only to discover she had the same misapprehension about him? Well, I don’t have enough redheads in my stories, so how about the fiery-tressed and -tempered Maureen O’Hara? I know she usually plays a heroine, but she could go fatale when she wanted. So I traded in her Irish accent for the faint strains of a Maryland one and let her take the folks at Margaret Point for one hell of a ride!
Then, there’s Sailor, aka Phil Novack, the mysterious man who rides the equally mysterious Dark Horse of the title. A solitary sort, haunted by war memories and perhaps something more, to whom Jessica is drawn by their mutual love of horses. This becomes dangerous for them both. My inspiration was the craggy-featured, brooding presence that Robert Ryan so beautifully brought to the screen. Naturally, I’m thinking more of the decent but tortured and confused types he played in The Woman on the Beach or Act of Violence, not the sly, murdering racist in Criss-Cross.
And what inspired my College at Margaret Point? Ah, that’s interesting. Over the years, I’ve made many a visit to the campus of UConn at Avery Point. It’s located on the Long Island Sound, with wonderful grounds, a gorgeous view of the ocean, and an impressive mini-chateau that was once a wealthy business person’s Branford House. Now the House holds administrative offices and hosts conferences or even weddings in its magnificent Great Hall, with its first-floor rooms boasting gorgeous woodwork and carved mantels. On the second floor is a small but nifty art gallery. Although I embroidered on the campus a bit by including stables, victory gardens, and cozy faculty-cottage housing in my novel, the fictional Cameron House neatly captures the elegance of Branford House.
Once again, Dusty remains Dusty! Mice, murderers, and master spies beware! What’s she nabbing now?!
Stay tuned for more blogs to whet your appetite for Always Play the Dark Horse, coming out on August 24th.
Barbara Stanwyck Image, unknown source
Nigel Bennett Image: Screen shot, Forever Knight, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006
Maureen O’Hara Image: By J. Fred Henry Publications – page 32, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44624486
Images of David Selby, Robert Ryan, Branford House, and Dusty: Author’s collection
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