Watch out, Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Saddam Hussein is taking your literary place.
The 1955 novel about materialism, conformity and social-climbing began:
By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it. There were many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling.
Tom Seligson grew up in Westport during those 1950s. After boarding school (with a classmate named George W. Bush), he’s enjoyed a long career as an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and writer.
So it’s no surprise he chose Westport for the setting of his 4th and latest novel, King of Hearts. (Seligson calls the town “Soundview” — a reference to his current Compo Beach home.
What may be surprising is the plot: 2 unsolved mysteries of the Iraq War.
The 1st concerns whatever happened to one of Saddam Hussein’s most feared associates: the “king of hearts” on the U.S. military’s Most Wanted cards. He has never been found.
The 2nd mystery is what happened to the $1.5 billion stolen from the Iraq Central Bank at the beginning of the war. “The government said all the money — which was in euros — was recovered,” Seligson says. “Of course, they also said the WMD would be easy to find.”
Like the successful formula of “Law & Order,” Seligson wanted those 2 large mysteries to be revealed in the course of a separate, smaller investigation. A murder in a suburban town seemed a good starting point for his international plot.
A good character to throw into the mix would be a seasoned detective who was an Iraq veteran. That way, he’d have a personal connection to any unresolved mysteries from the war.
As for Westport: “It’s always more fun to write about something you know,” Seligson says. “It gives you a chance to have your characters express your own thoughts and feelings about your home town, whether it’s McMansion fever, or how where you go on vacation becomes a competitive sport.”
Many of the sites in “Soundview” are easily recognized. The story opens with a murder in a place much like Earthplace; the neighborhood closely resembles Old Hill, where Seligson grew up. (In 1962 a woman was murdered and her teenage daughter raped and abducted in that very neighborhood.)
Other scenes are set at Compo Beach, the police station, along the Saugatuck River, and at a real estate office like the one that was next to Westport Hardware. The agent is a colorful character inspired by a larger-than-life soap actress-turned-realtor Seligson knew long ago.
In “Soundview,” people have coffee at Starbucks, and dinner at a barbecue restaurant downtown.
As a good writer, Seligson did plenty of research — even into a town he knows intimately. To learn more about the life of a Westport policeman, he interviewed his old friend Tony Giunta. The retired cop “is not to blame for any and all liberties I took,” Seligson notes.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit spawned a movie, starring Gregory Peck, Lee J. Cobb and Keenan Wynn. It was filmed here; the last scene shows Peck getting into a car near Achorn’s Pharmacy.
No word on who would star if a film version of King of Hearts were filmed in “Soundview.” But Achorn’s is still here.
(King of Hearts was published last week. For more information, click here.)