Bannerman

Denise McLaughlin’s husband likes to grab a book from the library rack at the train station.

The other day he picked up The Bannerman Solution, by John R. Maxim.

Published in 1989, the novel’s hero is Paul Bannerman, a covert agent. Suddenly, according to Maxim’s website,

death is running in Westport, Connecticut — one in a nationwide network of secret “halfway towns” where the country’s most dangerous former agents have been “retired.”

At war with powerful elements within his own government — a war not of his making — Bannerman has been lured to this place of yard sales, minivans, commuter trains and murder. The plan is for Bannerman and those he ran to die here, quietly. But Bannerman has other plans.

Denise says much of the action takes place at Mario’s — hey, covert agents like steaks and martinis too. The book also highlights “the town librarian.”

Maxim’s next book — The Bannerman Effect — is also set in Westport.

Hidden behind a Maginot Line of safe houses and front operations in quiet Westport, Connecticut, are Paul Bannerman and his elite group of contract agents. They don’t look any different from their neighbors. They run restaurants, a medical clinic, a travel agency — until something big brings them out of retirement.

Two more novels — Bannerman’s Law and Bannerman’s Promise — don’t mention Westport (at least, Maxim’s website doesn’t). But then — a decade later — came Bannerman’s Ghosts.

Paul Bannerman was back — and back in Westport.

They’re called Bannerman’s People, and they could be the bartender, the gardener, or the librarian–but, in fact, they’re former operatives who’ve “retired,” en masse, to the sleepy, affluent community of Westport, CT. It’s the peaceful life they crave–and they’ll go to any lengths to protect it and one another.

Now a Machiavellian entrepreneur sets his sights on one of their former associates — a “ghost” named Elizabeth Stride, long rumored to be dead — Paul Bannerman and his neighbors must mobilize. Very quickly they discover that their mission is about much more than fealty and friendship, as they find themselves in the midst of a terrorist’s deadly game.

According to his bio, Maxim was an advertising executive who lived in Westport.

John R. Maxim

One night, sitting in the bar car on his commute home, he decided to quit and try writing. (Presumably he stopped at Mario’s too, to fortify his decision.)

His first novel, Platforms, sold within 6 months — without an agent. Bannerman soon followed. (And Maxim moved to Hilton Head.)

Denise McLaughlin — whose husband picked up The Bannerman Solution at the train station (across from Mario’s) — wondered if I knew anything about the series. I don’t. In fact, I’ve never heard of it.

Ask me about The Swimmer. Or Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! Or The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit — all stories set in Westport (and all later made into movies).

They were written decades before the Bannerman series. But somehow Maxim’s novels never seeped into the Westport oeuvre, the way those other tales did.

Then again, what happens at Mario’s, stays at Mario’s.



28 responses to “Bannerman

  1. . . . and Dan Woog is set in Westport, too. Who’d have known!

  2. Dorothy E. Curran, president, Westport Historical Society

    Hmmmm… Could Maxim’s inspiration for naming his lead character, Paul Bannerman, have been Harry Bannerman, the character played by Paul Newman in Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys?
    FYI…On Jan. 29th, the Westport Historical Society’s new Exhibit will look at famous 1950s TV/Film work featuring Westport, due to writers who lived/worked here, then incorporated Our Town into their work. Included will be “The Twilight Zone” (Rod Serling), “I Love Lucy” (Bob Weiskopf), “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (novelist Sloan Wilson, who grew up in Norwalk; the novel’s set in Southport, but was filmed in Westport), and “Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys” (novelist Max Shulman lived in Westport, and the film, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, was set in “Putnam’s Landing”, but largely done here). One of the functions of the Exhibit will be to identify Westport elements (and inside jokes) in the story line of these works. Complementing this exploration of mass media fiction, which gave Westport and its rail commuter lifestyle a national profile, will be Lisa Seidenberg’s new documentary about “The Cold War in our Back Yard”, a look at 1950s political reality, including the Nike Missile Site on North Ave. that was incorporated into Shulman’s spoof. The public is invited to the opening on Sunday, Jan. 29, 3 to 5. If you can’t make it then, the exhibit runs through the end of April.

    • Dorothy–that sounds like a great exhibit and we look forward to the opening day. (Perhaps Anne Serling can make a guest appearance.) But are you sure “Rally ‘Round the Flag Boys” was filmed in Westport? I thought it was shot in California. Thanks for organizing the exhibit.

      • I have passed Anne’s contact info on to the organizers. Let’s hope she can make it!

      • Dorothy E. Curran, president, Westport Historical Society

        Fred, despite all of its Westport roots, I believe that most of the filming that included the actors was indeed done in California. Some of the location shots in the film for “Putnam’s Landing” look to our Exhibits Committee as if they were shot in Greenwich (perhaps in keeping w/Putnam Ave.) As I understand, the Newmans later were inspired by the “Rally” experience to visit Westport and decided to stay.

        • My version of the Newmans arriving here was when Woodward worked with David Wayne in “Three Faces of Eve” on Broadway, the Newmans visited him often in his house directly adjacent to Coleytown Elementary. They decided to buy the house next door. Timmy Wayne and me used to swim in their pool after school in the mid-50’s.

    • Dorothy E. Curran, president, Westport Historical Society

      Correction on Sloan Wilson/Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: His parents were Westport writers, and the first sentence of the novel reads: “By the time they has lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it.”

  3. Elisabeth Keane

    Do you remember the house with the sign “Aggravation” on South Compo Road at the corner of what is now Tranquility Lane? That was the Maxims’ house. I think the Bannerman series is terrific and after reading one of these yarns you may never look at some townsfolk in quite the same way. The most recent Bannerman-related title is The Aisha Prophecy. I hope another Bannerman will appear soon. There are other books as well, fiction and non. I think John’s grandfather invented the Maxim gun silencer. John and Christine moved away years ago but I still miss their presence and sense of humor and whenever I drive along South Compo Road, my mind’s eye sees the Aggravation sign. By the way, I am told that the police and fire departments sometimes used to use that sign as a landmark in responding to calls. I think you can still ask for Bannerman’s table at Mario’s.

  4. One of my favorite books with Westport as its base is “Floating Dragon” by Peter Straub. It scared the bejeebies out of me since I recognized places and people referred to. The story was scary enough but having it take place close to home made it too real at times. I’ll have to check out the Bannerman series.

  5. Dan: What makes you think that John Cheever’s great short story, The Swimmer, is set in Westport ?

    A. David Wunsch
    Staples 1956

  6. The film was actually shot in Westport, Weston and New Canaan because the towns closely resembled the atmosphere of Ossining, NY but did not have interference from air traffic for sound recording, according to the Bridgeport Post.

  7. Another explicitly Westport book is “The Three Weissmans of Westport” by Staples grad Cathleen Schine. It was well-reviewed and a NY Times best-seller a couple years ago. From the Publishers Weekly blurb:
    “A geriatric stepfather falls in love with a scheming woman half his age in Schine’s Sense and Sensibility–flecked and compulsively readable follow-up to The New Yorkers. Betty Weissman is 75 when Joseph, her husband of nearly 50 years, announces he’s divorcing her. Soon, Betty moves out of their grand Central Park West apartment and Joseph’s conniving girlfriend, Felicity, moves in. Betty lands in a rundown Westport, Conn., beach cottage, but things quickly get more complicated when Betty’s daughters run into their own problems. Literary agent Miranda is sued into bankruptcy after it’s revealed that some of her authors made up their lurid memoirs, and Annie, drowning in debt, can no longer afford her apartment. Once they relocate to Westport, both girls fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of her stepfather’s paramour, and Miranda with a younger actor who has a young son. An Austen-esque mischief hovers over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to survive and thrive. It’s a smart crowd pleaser with lovably flawed leads and the best tearjerker finale you’re likely to read this year.”

  8. Bobbie Herman

    Mary Higgins Clark has set a couple of her mysteries in Westport and surrounding towns, but all of the street names are fictional.

  9. One scene from “The Swimmer” was filmed at the Wepplers’ home. Also, Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” was set in Westport and scenes from the movie based on his book, “The Stepford Wives,” were filmed in Westport–I think one of the scenes took place in the shopping center at the corner of Sylvan Road and the Post Road.

    • And let’s not forget “Manny’s Orphans” (1978), the finest soccer movie ever made. It was directed by Westport’s own Sean Cunningham (“Friday the 13th,” “Spring Break”), and featured a number of local soccer players.

      Oh, yeah: I choreographed all the soccer scenes. And played the referee.

      Learn all you ever wanted to know about this amazing film, which in a travesty of justice received absolutely zero Academy Award nominations:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207597/

  10. “Loving” circa 1970, starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint has a scene filmed at Greens Farms School. The only scene I recall was filmed in the auditorium with the chorus singing.

  11. I still get that eerie feeling around Burying Hill, when I think about Floating Dragon by Straub. One of the Bannerman books has a scene in the Old Library mezzanine. And for poetry fans, how about Westport Poems by Jonathan Towers? The peripetitic author is no longer with us, but his poems memorialize many familiar (including vanished) town places & people..

  12. Jo Ann Miller

    Of note, Westporter Carl Addison Swanson’s latest novel, “Double Parked in The Twilight Zone” is set in Westport in the summer of 1960. It is due to be released in the fall of 2012.

  13. Ah, Floating Dragon. My late mother was very good friends with Peter and Susan Straub. I remeber several of his books, and, according to my mother several of the characters in Floating Dragon were actually some of his friends that inspired him from Westport and there about.

  14. I saw the Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap in London with a fellow Westporter back in the 80s… we were the only ones laughing with surprise at all the “local” humor!

  15. Around 1978, Here Come the Tigers was filmed in various places in Westport, with some of our local police officers in minor roles. Sean Cunningham, of Friday the 13th fame, was the director and he lived in Westport at the time.

  16. Nick Thiemann

    Re: Maxim’s Bannermn- Loved his series but could not understand his obsession with mario’s bread sticks. Waht bread sticks?

  17. Charlie Cole asked me to pass this along:

    The Jan. 6 post on “Bannerman” stories by John Maxim brought another Westport author to mind. Peter Straub’s “Floating Dragon” is a literary walk through Westport’s streets and shops, even if he did name the town Hamstead.

    And, even more personal, on Friday nights back in the ’80s, before our weekly shopping at Stew’s, we would often dine at the relatively new Fuddruckers on the Post Road. On one such evening, sitting just a couple of tables behind us was a very recognizable Stephen King, along with Peter Straub. Perhaps they were discussing “The Talisman” that they co-authored. However, in keeping with the “Paul Newman dictum of bother me not,” we merely smiled, and got a Kingly nod in response.

    — Charlie & Sandie Cole, now of Oakton, VA, near Washington, DC, where political celeberties are bitterly disappointed if you don’t shake and speak.

  18. Great story, Dan! Exactly why my family and I follow this blog. Well, besides the heads up we receive about new banks in town…