Mayhem" At Bookhampton, A Weekend Festival of Mysteries and Mystery Writers" - 27 East

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

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author on May 10, 2011

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.”

In spite of the morbid tale written by Mr. Ross, the author insists that he is a pretty happy-go-lucky person in real life, but maybe with a bit of an edge.

“Most people who meet me think I’m one of the most optimistic people they’ve met. But I do admit to looking at happiness through a lens darkly,” he said.

Murder and mischief will also be served up by Linda Fairstein, who headed the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for 26 years and is the author of a crime series featuring fictional prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. She will host a lecture, “The City as Character,” at BookHampton East Hampton on Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. and will introduce three new mystery writers—Karen Bergreen, Hilary Davidson and Cara Hoffman—at 4 p.m. at the East Hampton store.

It’s no mistake that Ms. Fairstein’s heroine, Ms. Cooper, shares the same profession as her, the author said during an interview last week.

“That was intentional,” said Ms. Fairstein, who left her post with the crimes unit in 2002. “You know the old adage: write what you know. It’s what I felt I could bring to this genre, which is very crowded with lots of good writers.”

The author has a fan in Ms. Newburger, who said that she relishes the authenticity in Ms. Fairstein’s writing.

“She’s an amazingly intelligent writer and a lawyer,” Ms. Newburger said. “She gained all of this information through her career and funnels that into her fiction.”

Another facet of writing what she knows, Ms. Fairstein proves, comes to the setting of her novels. Her 13-book series consciously brands Manhattan as a character in each novel.

“I take some aspect of the city and explore it, uncover it,” the author explained. “Places that seem very familiar and benign have very dark undersides.”

In her most recent effort, “Silent Mercy,” which was released in March, Ms. Cooper’s character is one of the first on a murder scene at a Baptist church in Harlem. On the steps lies a burnt, headless body of a young woman. Not long after, another woman is slaughtered and found on the steps of a Catholic church in Little Italy. Her throat is slashed and her tongue cut out.

“Take religious institutions, for example,” Ms. Fairstein said. “People think of them as safe havens and welcome, yet there are lots of bad things going on in the name of religion right now. That’s where I went with this book. I’ve gotten into museums, too, and the Lincoln Center. I love exploring New York City and using it as a character.”

A day trip to the Hamptons for Ms. Fairstein, who splits her time between Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard, usually revolves around antiquing and beach hopping, but the author isn’t complaining about the chance to spend time with fellow mystery novelists and their avid fans.

“This will be my third year with Mayhem, and it’s great,” Ms. Fairstein said. “I love being in a good bookstore.”

Young readers will also be entertained during “Mayhem,” though a little less darkly. On Saturday, May 14, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, an author who stars on “The Real Housewives of New York City,” will host a marathon read-through of Nancy Drew’s “The Secret of the Old Clock” at BookHampton in East Hampton starting at 10 a.m. At that event, readers under 16 are invited to step up and read a few paragraphs, which will be taped for future broadcast.

Ms. Killoren Bensimon will also read from “Nate The Great,” “Cam Jansen” and “Encyclopedia Brown” on Saturday at 2 p.m. at BookHampton in Southampton.

Additional authors participating during “Mayhem” include Lorenzo Carcaterra, Ken Wishnia, Justin Evans, Wallace Stroby, Reed Farrel Coleman and Michael Atkinson, who will visit the Sag Harbor location on Saturday, May 14, at 3 p.m. for “Tough Guys Talk The Talk & Write The Walk.

To view a full “Mayhem Weekend” schedule, visit bookhampton.com.

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