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Hamptons Life

May 10, 2011 9:38 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

"Mayhem" At Bookhampton, A Weekend Festival of Mysteries and Mystery Writers

May 10, 2011 12:46 PM

urder, mystery, suspense, and most of all, “Mayhem,” will run amok at BookHampton bookstores in East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, during the third annual “Mayhem Weekend.”

During the “Mayhem” festivities, participants will bounce between the three locations for a variety of activities, including book signings and lectures featuring popular writers from here on the East End and beyond. And on Sunday, heralded author Nelson DeMille will visit the Sag Harbor BookHampton for “Sunday Belongs to Nelson DeMille” day at 1 p.m.

Not surprisingly, the free event was a huge success right out of the box three years ago, said both assistant manager Mary Braverman of the East Hampton BookHampton and bookseller Laurie Newburger during an interview last week.

“This mystery festival has a life of its own,” said Ms. Newburger. “The whole thing is great. It’s a little crazy, but that’s why we call it ‘Mayhem.’”

New to “Mayhem” this year is a film screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” which will play at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Saturday at 8 p.m. The screening will include a discussion by Adam Ross, author of “Mr. Peanut” and an expert on all things Hitchcock.

Mr. Ross is a man of mystery. At least on the page, anyway.

The real-life, mild-mannered, former East Hampton resident—who many might remember from his days in the early 1990s as a waiter and bartender at several local restaurants, including one lucrative summer at The Swamp, and as a lifeguard at the Montauk Inn—will return to the East End this weekend to share his twisted tale of murder, mayhem and Mobius strip-inspired complexity.

During his appearance, Mr. Ross, who returns to the Hamptons every August with his family—wife, Beth Alexander and daughters Margot, 5, and Lyla, 4—will discuss his debut novel. But as with any good mystery, there will be a twist. Along with the reading and signing of his book, which was a sleeper success when it came out last year, Mr. Ross will discuss “Rear Window,” which is heavily referenced in his book. Readers, take note, there are more than 200 Hitchcock nods in “Mr. Peanut.”

The plot of “Mr. Peanut” centers around the life of David Pepin, who meets and falls in love with his wife, Alice, during a Hitchcock seminar in college (Mr. Ross also met and fell in love with his wife at a college Hitchcock class). But even though the character is madly in love with his wife, he obsessively dreams of her death.

Not surprisingly, she turns up dead. And Mr. Pepin is the number one suspect in the possible murder.

But, slapping

deus ex machina

in the face, Mr. Ross’s tale goes further and further down the rabbit hole as the reader slowly unravels multiple story lines involving the Pepins; detectives Ward Hastroll (an anagram for Lars Thorwald, the villain in “Rear Window”) and Dr. Sam Sheppard (yes, that Dr. Sheppard, who was the real-life subject of the television series and movie “The Fugitive.”); Hitchcock plots, themes and characters; and the artwork of M.C. Escher.

For those expecting a neatly wrapped-up ending for this complex tale—don’t.

“Pepin is this sort of Walter Mitty of murder,” Mr. Ross said, adding that everyone’s lives, including his protagonist’s, are filled with “moral turpitude and moral hazard all the time ... He’s eternally trapped in a Mobius strip by the end of the novel, an inescapable loop of guilt.”

The book, which took 10 years to write, is worth picking up again and again, according to the author, who credits his father, Howard Ross, who lives in East Hampton with his wife, Joanna (and the author’s mother), with providing two key elements of inspiration.

“‘Mr. Peanut’ started with a story my father told me in 1995 when my wife and I were living in East Hampton,” Mr. Ross said. “It was about the suspicious death of my second cousin, who was morbidly obese, suffered from depression and had a peanut allergy. Her husband claimed that he came home one afternoon to find that she had killed herself by eating peanuts. When I heard that story, I thought ‘there you go, that’s the perfect murder.’ I sat down and wrote what resembled very closely the first three chapters of ‘Mr. Peanut.’”

He continued, “Two years into drafting, I was watching ‘The Fugitive’ with my father and I thought ‘Bingo! There’s my perfect character.’ This guy’s the only person in America who has been tried, convicted and exonerated of killing his wife. Did Sam do it? It depends on the day,” Mr. Ross said. “What makes the case so compelling is that Sam Sheppard had no defensive wounds on his body. That’s one of the details where you think, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ It’s fascinating.”

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