Heart Attack and Vine

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by Phoef Sutton

This is a madcap murder mystery that pits con artists against Hollywood directors, who arguably are con artists of a different stripe.

Mixed into this tangle is a perverse love story that suggests love may be the greatest con of all.

Caleb Rush, known on the streets as Crush, has his own criminal roots: a Russian mobster father who trained him and a mother who ran assorted cons simply to survive after being dumped by Crush’s father.

But these days, Crush is pretty much straight: a recovering alcoholic, a martial arts master and the student of a female sensei who is educating him in wisdom, self-awareness and values.

As this story opens, a person from Crush’s past, Rachel Fury, has resurfaced. Her father and his mother were once romantically involved. Crush and Rachel pulled off many cons together before Crush reformed.

Rachel lives life as “the Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” assuming one role after another in pursuit of her goals. Her current goal is to marry film director Adam Udell, whom she says, believably or otherwise, she loves. The fact that he has a long-term girlfriend (Polly) who edits his films and manages his professional life is of no concern to Rachel.

Udell cast her in two films, one of which led to her receiving a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her screen name is Rachel Strayhorn. She makes a dramatic return to Crush’s life by crashing her Porsche into the parking lot of the bar where he works as a bouncer.

She wants to hire him as a body guard to protect her from a mentally unbalanced stalker. When Polly meets Crush, she wants to hire him to guard Adam. At this point, things start going every which way.

Udell, Rachel, Polly and an entire film crew are headed to New Orleans to film a movie. The stalker follows. Rachel’s con artist father follows. A once great, now unknown movie director tags along.

The plot gets stacked higher than a Hungarian Dobos torte.

There are multiple bad guys in this story — not always the ones you expect.  And in the end most get their comeuppance. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, however, disappears on the verge of arrest.

This is like reading a comic book in a high wind. Stuff just happens one right after another for no apparent reason. Characters you warm up to turn nasty. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl charms at first then turns out to be a stone cold psychopath.

And Crush, who needs to carry this crazy plot, seems a tad bland despite his dramatic past.  Maybe his reformation from an alcoholic crook to a self-aware martial arts practitioner is covered in the first book of the series, Crush, but it doesn’t seem credible if you read this book first.

Heart Attack and Vine is followed by Colorado Boulevard.

About the Author: Robert Christopher “Phoef” Sutton (1958 – )

Phoef Sutton is a writer and producer who began his career writing scripts for “Newhart.” He later became executive producer of and a writer for “Cheers” (1982). His other television work included co-writing and co-producing the cult comedy series “Thanks,” about the Pilgrims’ first years in America, was showrunner and producer of the NBC series “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” and the American version of “Coupling.”

His film credits include “Mrs. Winterbourne” and “The Fan,” both released in 1996. His complete film and TV credits can be found at IMDb.

His first novel was Always Six O’Clock (1999). He has since written The Dead Man: The Midnight Special (2012) and The Dead Man: Reborn (2012), Fifteen Minutes to Live (2015), the Crush series and two books that he co-authored with Janet Evanovich: Wicked Charms and Curious Minds.

His latest novel, From Away, he describes as a suspenseful “supernatural family drama,” written as a letter to the narrator’s four-year-old-niece.

His nickname “Phoef” (pronounced “feef”) was given to him by his brothers in infancy.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University, where he was one of the few undergraduates to win the Norman Lear Award for Comedy Playwriting.


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