Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Got a Light? | Greg Messel @gregmessel

A trip back in time to the 1950s world of my novels, "Last of the Seals," “Deadly Plunge,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Fog City Strangler,” “Shadows In The Fog,”  “Cable Car Mystery,”and now my new novel “San Francisco Nights,”  is full of reminders how much the world has changed.

One of the most obvious changes involves the social mores surrounding smoking. In all of the Sam Slater books, the characters rarely have five minutes of conversation before they start lighting up. 

My main female character, Amelia, even tries to light a cigarette while she’s on a wind swept water taxi going out to Alcatraz. I’ve been out on San Francisco Bay on a boat to Alcatraz. You can hardly stand up straight because of the wind, let alone light a cigarette. 

Sam Slater’s cigarette case actually saves his life during a shooting in “Shadows In The Fog.” He quips to Amelia, “who says cigarettes are bad for your health.”

When I began my career in the corporate world in the 1970s, I remember conference rooms being smoke filled with ash tray spilling over with cigarette butts and ashes.
I remember the smoking sections on airplanes. I recall that being in the last row of the non smoking section was pretty much the same as sitting in the smoking section. 

Flight attendants still warn you on airplane flights to not smoke in the  bathrooms. That warning is about 35 years old now.

Today smokers must huddle around the doorways of office buildings to grab a cigarette outside. There are enclosed rooms at airports for smokers. That's fine with me but it has been a monumental change.  

In today’s business world it would be considered appalling if in the middle of an office, someone lit up a cigarette. 

In the 1950s, smoking was even more pronounced. My grandparents were both chain smokers and I remember as a child or a teenager, that you could actually see smoke rolling out the front door when you entered their house. I was exposed to massive amounts of second hand smoke for years. 

My grandparents are long gone but when I picture them in my mind’s eye, they are holding a cigarette.  

In my mystery novels set in the 1950s, everyone smokes and virtually non stop.  They are constantly lighting up--even baseball players like Sam Slater. 

The biggest baseball stars of the day—Warren Spahn, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and it goes on and on—all lit up as soon as they got to the clubhouse. I found a magazine ad featuring the great Jackie Robinson. He’s holding a baseball bat in his right hand and a carton of Chesterfield cigarettes in his left hand. The ad copy says “Take my tip—smoke Chesterfield…much milder. Jackie Robinson.”

Babe Ruth, who died later of cancer, advertised Old Gold cigarettes. Babe took the “blindfold cigarette test” and picked Old Gold. The Babe said there’s “not a cough in a carload.”

Sophisticated, glamorous San Franciscans of the 1950s, like Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan nearly always had a cigarette in their hands. Watch movies from the 1950s or 1960s to witness how it was just part the persona of the attractive, urbane persona. When you view an old “Tonight Show” you’ll see Johnny Carson smoke one cigarette after another with guests like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. 

Sinatra hawked Chesterfields as well. His ad tag line asks “like your pleasure big?” Frank says Chesterfields offer “man-size satisfaction.”

When Amelia barely escapes some murderous bad guys in “Cable Car Mystery” she tries to calm her nerves by lighting a cigarette but her hands are shaking so badly from the ordeal she can’t do so. 

I’ve watched vintage cigarette commercials which played on television in the 1950s. They are funny but somewhat disturbing when you look back on them with our knowledge about the impact on health from cigarettes. 

I found a hilarious magazine ad showing future President but then actor, Ronald Reagan with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He is filling out gift cards on Christmas presents which are all cartons of Chesterfields. Behind him is a Christmas wreath and in the foreground is a big pack of Chesterfield cigarettes. The ad copy says “I’m sending Chesterfields to all my friends. That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have—Chesterfield mildness plus no unpleasant after-taste.” 

Brands like Kool and Newport touted the soothing effect on a raw throat from their filtered cigarettes. There is a famous ad for Camel’s cigarettes which includes the tag line “According to a recent Nationwide survey: More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.”  

When Sam and Amelia visit Dr. John O’Dell in an earlier book in the mystery series, “San Francisco Secrets”, the first thing the medical doctor offers the couple is a cigarette.  At their first meeting, Sam asks the doctor if cigarettes are bad for your health. 
Dr. O’Dell advises Sam “there are benefits of smoking as long as you don’t overdo it. I think smoking filtered cigarettes like these Winstons helps,” the doctor says. “It cuts down on the irritation to the throat.  Smoking actually releases a couple of chemicals in the brain, which relieves tension and helps you experience pleasure.”

The doctor also tells Sam that smoking can aid in weight loss and releases chemicals in the brain which are similar to the sensation that you experience when you kiss a pretty woman.

The doctor’s advice is the common thinking of the times and the narrative from the tobacco companies.  Dr. O’Dell tries to convince Sam that smoking a cigarette is almost as pleasurable as kissing Amelia. Sam’s not buying that argument. 

Ah, the 1950s, when you could knock down a steak dinner, light up an after dinner cigarette and not feel a bit guilty. Not a calorie count or a trace of guilt in sight. Ignorance is bliss I guess. 

About the Author

Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg lives in Edmonds, Washington on Puget Sound with his wife Jean DeFond.

Greg has written ten novels. His latest is "San Francisco Nights" which is the seventh in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. "Shadows In The Fog," "Fog City Strangler," "San Francisco Secrets," "Deadly Plunge" are sequels to the first book in the series "Last of the Seals." His other three novels are "Sunbreaks," "Expiation" and "The Illusion of Certainty." For a more detailed summary of Greg's novels go to www.gregmessel.com 

Greg is currently working on his eleventh novel "Dreams That Never Were" which is not part of the mystery series.



About the Book:

Author: Greg Messel
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing
Pages: 232
Genre: Mystery / Suspense

The wife of a wealthy San Francisco shipping magnate leads a secret life but someone is threatening to expose her.  Private eye Sam Slater and his wife and partner, Amelia, meet a mysterious woman in a large red hat during a train trip. The woman approaches him pleading for help because she‘s receiving anonymous notes quoting Bible verses which are becoming more and more ominous with each passing day. Her secrets have been discovered but by whom? What really happens behind closed doors in Room 505 in a swanky downtown hotel?

Sam is willing to take the case but Amelia warns that this woman is nothing but trouble. What does the woman really want? She’s been watching Sam for months and has a scheme to pull him into her world. 

Find out in the latest Sam Slater Mystery “San Francisco Nights” set in the fall of 1959. It’s the seventh book in the series but is a heart pounding stand alone whodunit. 

Watch the book trailer at YouTube.


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