By George Ebey
The Bianca Dangereuse Hollywood Mystery series continues to dish out the historical thrills in this latest installment from author Donis Casey, VALENTINO WILL DIE.
Though Bianca LaBelle, star of the wildly popular silent movie serial The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, and Rudolph Valentino, the greatest screen idol of all time, have been friends for years, in the summer of 1926 they are making their first picture together, a steamy romance called Grand Obsession. One evening after dinner, a troubled Rudy confesses that he has received anonymous death threats. In a matter of weeks, Rudy falls deathly ill. Could it be poison? As Rudy lies dying, Bianca promises she will find out who is responsible. Was it one of his many lovers? A delusional fan? Or perhaps Rudy has run afoul of a mobster whose name Bianca knows all too well. With time running out, Bianca calls on the one man she believes can help them before the charmed life of Rudolph Valentino comes to an end.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Casey to learn more about this book and the series it inhabits.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
The Bianca Dangereuse series is a spin-off of my earlier Oklahoma-set Alafair Tucker series. When I first wrote about Blanche/Bianca, she was a six-year-old girl living with her very large family on a farm in Oklahoma in the 1910s. I watched through ten novels as she grew up to be a smart, beautiful, but headstrong teen, bored with life on the farm. I decided it would be fun to fling Blanche into the world and see what happened. I didn’t know myself she was going to end up a movie star—until she did.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented?
As always, both my biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity is going to a whole new world and living there long enough to be able to recreate it for readers in a totally believable and compelling way. Since the world was a bigger place in 1920, my character Blanche/Bianca found herself in a totally unfamiliar setting, among people who could have come from another planet as far she’s concerned. My new time and place necessitated a whole new tone for the novel in comparison to my earlier series. I hear the sound of that new world in my head when I write, the world of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.
Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
In this book, the villain is an elderly woman crime boss—evil, heartless, frightening. I’m always interested in challenging the stereotypes of what women were like in the past, how clever and often devious one had to be in order to prosper. To paraphrase Toni Morrison’s observation about race, “once you know a person’s gender, you know nothing about them at all.”
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Besides reading old newspapers and doing the usual historical research, I must have watched dozens of silent movies to get a sense of the look, feel, and zeitgeist of the era. Until…eureka! The magic happened, and I realized that the new book should be fashioned like a silent movie, with inter-title cards rather than chapter headings, full of peril and ending on a cliffhanger. And, lucky for me, early Hollywood was so full of sin, corruption, strange happenings and colorful characters that I never have to worry about plot ideas.
What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general?
I’m often asked if I’ve based the protagonist on myself, but no one has yet asked if I’ve ever based the villain on myself. Can I really call up that much anger and desire for revenge from within myself and imbue my antagonist with it?
Oh, honey, you have no idea.
Donis Casey is the author of VALENTINO WILL DIE (Feb. 2021) the second episode (following The Wrong Girl, 2019) in a fresh new series starring Bianca LaBelle, star of the silent screen action serial The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. In addition to this series about a beautiful, headstrong, and wildly lucky girl in glamorous 1920s Hollywood, Donis is also the author of ten Alafair Tucker Mysteries, an award-winning series featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She lives in Tempe, AZ.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.