Cover image for Murder at heartbreak hospital
Murder at heartbreak hospital
Slesar, Henry.
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Publication Information:
Chicago : Academy Chicago Publishers, 1998.

Physical Description:
247 pages ; 23 cm
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Heartbreak Hospital is one of the most popular TV soap operas, an endless saga of life and death, love and hatred: to many of its fans, the characters seem much more real than the actors who play them. The character everyone loves to hate is Andrea Harmon, the soap's classic Bitch, played by Sunday Tyler--a ruthless, demanding, manipulative actress who has alienated everyone connected with the show. The only person who has seen Sunday's softer side is Bill Troy of the New York Police Department Movie/TV Unit, who is inevitably drawn into the case when Sunday is murdered, and no one has a satisfactory alibi.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Murder on a soap opera--hardly a shocking premise. This murder, however, takes place in "real life," as the unpopular lead actress of popular daytime drama Heartbreak Hospital is found slain in gruesome fashion. Author Slesar, himself a serial writer for 15 years, obviously knows his subject, but stilted dialogue and too many characters slow the story down, and the unrealistic plot twists might play better on TV. All that said, his portrayal of boozy, bitchy, and brazenly ambitious soap actors and staff can be entertaining, especially when one considers that some of them may be based on real people Slesar encountered in the industry. Bill Troy, the cop assigned to Heartbreak Hospital, is a likable hero and elicits some laughs with his disastrous personal life. The novel also capably addresses such less sudsy topics as the frustration of the token black actor on the show and the relationship between a gay writer and actor. Soap fans will enjoy the book but not as much as their shows. --Jenny McLarin

Publisher's Weekly Review

Demanding star Sunday Tyler, who plays hit soap opera Heartbreak Hospital's most important role, that of femme fatale Andrea Harmon, has few friends but lots of enemies. So when she is found murdered in her apartment, everyone on the show becomes a suspect. NYPD officer William Troy, who'd been assigned to security work for the soap, helps homicide cops sort through the cast and crew, which includes jealous actors and frustrated scriptwriters. Adding to Troy's problems, his ex-girlfriend Fiona suddenly turns up at his apartment: she's pregnant and wants him to marry her. The plot may be sudsy, but Slesar does an admirable job of making the bubbles worth watching as he mimics daytime TV's most outrageous hours. Deliciously stereotyped characters and overacting add to the atmosphere. A second death has Troy reeling as he finds himself a suspect, and while the finale is predictable, Slesar provides an enjoyable time, full of nasty twists and characters, taking readers there. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As liaison for New York City's movie and TV police unit, William Troy meets the luscious but much-hated star of a popular soap opera, Heartbreak Hospital. Rude, snotty, and vicious, the nonetheless talented Sunday Tyler rules the soap opera roost‘and, for a brief time, Troy's heart. When she is murdered, life imitates television "art" as cast members and writers attempt to reorganize their story lines and police try to narrow the suspect list. Wry humor, dramatic pauses, real and imagined conflicts, and ever-metamorphosing subplots: a sure bet for most collections. [Mystery novelist Slesar was also a television scriptwriter and wrote a daytime serial for 15 years.‘Ed.] (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Our Gal Sunday     "We can't just have her killed," the man in the checked shirt said, with an earnest expression only slightly marred by the fragment of shrimp tail he was picking out of his teeth. "I mean, that's a given. It can't be anything blatant, like a knife or a gun. We've got to do this right."     "Cleverly," one of his eating companions said. He was a thin man with shoe-polish-black hair and a hawklike profile. "Not an obvious murder. A believable accident." He looked into his linguine. "Food poisoning, maybe."     "We get her to eat here," the third man said gloomily, staring at a grey wedge of meat on his fork.     William Troy, sitting alone at the next table, sneaked another sidelong glance at the third speaker and realized it was a woman. The tweed jacket and short haircut had fooled him for a moment, but the voice, for all its throatiness, was definitely feminine. Two men and a woman, casually plotting murder in their lunch hour, choosing a public place for their sinister conference and ignoring the possibility of eavesdroppers, including a member of the New York City police force.     The risk may have finally occurred to them, because now both men were suddenly canvassing the crowded restaurant with darting, apprehensive eyes.     "Don't worry," the woman said, in a tone of dry derision. "She wouldn't eat here if she was starving. She's probably at Aureole right this minute. André Soltner is lighting her cigarette."     "I'm not just worried about her ," the hawklike man said. "We've got to make sure that nobody knows. It's got to happen so fast that they just don't see it coming."     "You're forgetting something," the woman said. "She's on a fifty-two-week cycle with twenty left to go."     "We'll just have to eat the guarantee," the first man said.     "It'll probably taste better than this veal." She stabbed at it viciously. "Why do we eat in this place, for God's sake? Do we have a death wish or something?"     "I have a death wish, all right," the hawklike man said darkly. "And I can hardly wait."     William Troy wasn't sure he should wait either. He had, after all, a sworn duty to apprehend felons before, during, and after the commission of a crime, preferably the first. It had been some time since the NYPD had allowed him to uphold it, not since he had been a patrolman in a Village district, piling up a hefty number of vice arrests in that fertile area. He was making all the right moves towards detective status when, on his twenty-sixth birthday, a hooker with a face like a Botticelli angel and the mental attitude of a Borgia plunged a six-inch kitchen knife into his chest, narrowly missing his heart. The emotion which surfaced first was surprise. Troy hadn't planned on injury in his police career. He wasn't a notably physical type, barely making the required weight for his six-two frame, and it had been an effort of will to meet the seventy percent passing grade of the Academy's Physical Education unit. Troy's image of his future had been a cerebral one. He saw himself solving Baffling Crimes through Brilliant Analysis and Deduction. In other words, he was a child of the television age.     He hadn't been sure if he was making a step in the right direction when he put in his request to join the Movie/TV unit of the NYPD. His friend Gary Naughton had suggested it on the first day Troy was allowed visitors at the hospital. Troy still hadn't had the breath to answer him, but he had managed to shake his head "no." His picture of the work had been that of a bunch of Blues standing idly around the perimeters of a city street closed off by a movie crew shooting an inane TV commercial. Gary had done everything he could to rebut his argument, and he had had plenty of time in which to do it. Troy's convalescence had been a long one, and Gary was his most frequent visitor, apart from Fiona, the blonde with whom Troy shared his Village apartment. Gary had made the work seem like cop heaven: he received his assignments at home and used his own vehicle to get to the location sites. Every job was different, he had said with enthusiasm, and there was plenty of clout from the mayor's office--they were doing backflips to encourage the Hollywood types to use city locations; it was good for business. The truth was, Gary was starstruck, and he had just come from a downtown area where he had stood two feet away from Cher. Besides, he had said, didn't Troy once tell him he took a film course someplace? (It was at the New School, and lasted three weeks.) Captain Bagley would love him, Gary promised; Troy would be able to talk to these movie guys in their own arcane language. There was a long list of applicants, but Gary was sure he could get his name on the list. All he had to do was nod his head again, this time up and down. What do you say?     By the end of his hospital stay, Troy had said a qualified yes. He had taken a ride out to the Special Operations Division located in the old press building at Flushing Meadows. The offices of the Movie/TV unit were minimal, with no hint of the glamorous function they supported. There was also no hint of a showbiz influence in the commanding officer: Bagley was the type who got cops the appellation of "bulls" in the first place, a big man with fists like Smithfield hams, although Troy had suspected there was something slightly defensive in his muscular swagger.     "I'll tell you what I need on this job," he had told Troy, fixing him with a blue-eyed stare. "I need common sense. Now I'll tell you what I don't need. I don't need guys who drop their batons every time they see a movie star. You got a problem with that, Troy, you don't belong in this command."     It turned out there was something else Bagley needed. One of his most trusted deputies, a sergeant named Horner, had just opted for early retirement. Horner had been the man Bagley had relied on most to assist him in the liaison work that was crucial to the operation. When Bagley learned that Troy was a college graduate, that he could talk film jargon, he had put on some selling pressure. Within a week, Troy's name had travelled to the top of the list.     The job wasn't entirely without perks. This lunch was one of them, although the conspiracy at the next table raised some doubts about the quality of the meal still ahead of him. Two days before, Bagley had shown him a request from a daytime serial produced in New York for the extended use of city locations ranging from the Battery to Central Park. The TV people had already posted the required million-dollar bond, and were now asking for Department help to scout the areas. Troy was less than delighted. There were six feature movies in town at the same time, and he had hoped to be assigned to the one called Heat Wave . For one reason, it featured two rugged male stars he had admired from childhood. For another, it was a cop picture, the kind that created the most problems for the unit since phony uniforms, vehicles, and firearms would be employed. Troy liked problems. He had never watched a soap opera in his life but was nevertheless convinced of their cultural worthlessness.     He had been feeling better about the whole thing later that afternoon, when he had had a preliminary meeting with the producer. She was about twenty-five, a state-of-the-art blonde.     "Associate producer," she had corrected him. "That really means I'm Gene Badger's glorified secretary. He's the producer. There's also a supervising producer named Phyllis Wykopf and an executive producer who works at the network, named Abel McFee, but you'll never see him so it doesn't matter."     "It's your name that matters to me," Troy had said, with a smile that compensated for his broken nose and too-narrow face. He had been gratified to see the answering light in her large violet eyes.     "It's Kiki," she had said apologetically. "Kiki Carney. My mother thought it was cute. Anyway, all you really have to remember is the name of the program."     "I don't think I ever heard it," Troy said.     "It's `Heartbreak Hospital,'" Kiki said.     Now, waiting for his first briefing session at the restaurant Kiki had chosen, Troy had already forgotten the name. He was far too distracted by the unholy three he had under surveillance. Like all cops, he was trained to be suspicious, warned to be wary of men sitting in cars near schools or playgrounds, of people walking late at night, or carrying large packages, or--a new one for the list--plotting homicide in a public restaurant. But there was no way Troy could put a move on them simply on the basis of what he had overheard. Conspiracy to commit murder was a crime, but conversation wasn't hard evidence.     Then there was a new complication. Kiki Carney, looking even better than he remembered, threaded her way between the tables and waved her hand in greeting. Only the acknowledgment wasn't for him. It was for the Murderers' Lunch Club. With a start, Troy realized that she knew these people .     A few moments later, Troy knew them, too.     "Phyl Wykopf," Kiki said, and the woman held out a surprisingly soft hand. "Phyl is our supervising producer."     "How nice of you to help us out, Lieutenant." She locked her blue eyes into his as if trying to send him a telepathic message. He corrected the title, but she shrugged her tweeded shoulders. "Sorry," she said. "On soaps, every cop is a lieutenant."     "I'm Gene Badger," the man in the checked shirt said. He had an engaging, open face under sandy hair with random streaks of grey. "You look like an actor yourself, Mr Troy. Ever do anything in that line?"     "I did a little in college before a linebacker stepped on my nose."     "Badge of honor," the hawkfaced man said. "The American Heidelberg scar." Kiki introduced him as Bob Neffer, head writer of "Heartbreak Hospital." "This week's head writer," Neffer added glumly. "Don't get too attached to me, Lieutenant. I probably won't be around that long."     Troy didn't bother to make the correction a second time. Instead, he muttered a few polite words to the assembled trio and allowed Kiki to guide him back to the table where he had been waiting for her. He was relieved to see the group pay their bill and leave, so he could make a full confession.     "Get ready to laugh," he said. "I thought those three were cold-blooded killers. I should have realized your studio was right across the street, that they were just ... plotting a soap opera."     Kiki didn't laugh. In fact, she looked downright solemn.     "They weren't plotting," she said. "They were just daydreaming. There's no way they're going to kill off Sunday Tyler. They probably talk about it every time they have lunch together, but it just isn't going to happen."     "I suppose I should know who Sunday Tyler is, but I don't. Is it the actress or the character?"     "The actress," Kiki said. "But you can bet your badge the name is just as phony as she is."     Troy grinned. "Sounds like you're a member of the same fan club."     "Oh, everybody hates Sunday," she said lightly. "Just as they're supposed to hate Andrea Harmon."     "Who's Andrea Harmon?"     "Not an actress. The character. The one Sunday plays. Only of course, people love Andrea because she's so hateful. And Sunday makes her so hateful because Sunday is very good at making you hate her. That's why they're never going to be able to get rid of Sunday, because they can't get rid of Andrea.... What's the matter?"     "I'm thinking of giving you a speeding ticket."     "Sorry. What I mean is, Sunday Tyler is a miserable bitch, but she's very good at playing a miserable bitch, so we can't fire her or kill her off without hurting the show. Are you with me now?"     "Clinging to the running board."     "Cars don't have running boards any more."     "Mine does, practically. It's a twenty-year-old Volvo. If you're not busy this weekend, I'll show it to you."     "I think we'd better talk about `Heartbreak Hospital.'"     They ordered drinks, Kiki asking for the predictable glass of white wine and Troy, in minor deference to duty, a bottle of beer.     "We've been on the air for eight years. That's not really a very long time in this business. Serials like `As the World Turns' and `The Guiding Light' went on television before I was even born. They're like turtles. They move slowly, day after day, and live for a hundred years."     "You mean soaps never get canceled?"     "Of course they get canceled. Sometimes in their infancy. Sometimes after thirty-five years, like `Search for Tomorrow.' They wear themselves out, or the Nielsen pendulum swings to another network, or they get stuck in a bad time period. And when that happens, it isn't like one of those prime time ax jobs--everybody expects night-time shows to be canceled. When a daytime serial falls, it's like a dinosaur dropping. Whoomp ! The earth trembles."     "I see," Troy said slyly. "They're like turtles and dinosaurs."     "So I mix metaphors," Kiki said, nettled. "Do me something."     "What did you have in mind?"     She gave him a quizzical glance. "You don't think much of soap operas, do you? Or am I just being sensitive?"     Troy shrugged. "I don't know anything about them. But something tells me that the fate of Western Civilization wouldn't be affected one bit if they all fell like dinosaurs. Whoomp!"     Her small red lips parted, showing very white teeth that were slightly, charmingly, protruding. Troy felt guilty at once and murmured an apology.     "It's all right," Kiki said, still with a hint of grumpiness. "Most people feel the way you do about soaps--if they never watch them."     "One thing I never knew is that they shoot soaps outside the studio."     "They do it all the time, to hype the ratings. Usually, they're running off to the Caribbean and places like that for their location sequences. We thought `Heartbreak Hospital' should use the city itself. I mean, there's everything here."     "That's the problem," Troy said. "There's everything, including eight million people and four million vehicles. I just hope you're aware of all the problems you're going to have."     They ordered lunch, Troy choosing what he hoped was a chef-proof item, a pasta that arrived tasting like library paste. Kiki nibbled at a large salad, and answered his questions.     "I got hooked on soaps in college," she said. "There was a funny kind of counterrevolution going on at the time--it was almost groovy to be square, if you know what I mean. I don't know when it started, but suddenly all the dormitory kids were congregating in the lounges with their eyes glued to the tube, waiting to see if Laura would ever forgive Luke for raping her, and if they would ever escape from the gangsters on their trail and find true love and.... Oh, I know it sounds ridiculous, and I guess it was, but it became a kind of shared experience. Even if we didn't know each other , we knew the same imaginary people and rooted for them.... That's still the basic reason why soaps are so popular, I guess. But my first job wasn't in soaps, it was with a game show company, Goodson-Todman."     "Goodson-Todman? Sounds like something Jews say to each other on High Holy Days."     "It was just a temporary job, but I met people in the business, including a guy who worked for the producer of `The Edge of Night,' Nick Nicholson. Nick needed a secretary, and I had sworn to myself that I would never, never, never take a job where I brought the boss his coffee in the morning. But the minute I walked into that studio on 44th Street, and saw Sky Whitney in the flesh and Geraldine Whitney and Raven and that terrifying Gunther ..." She paused, seeing his reaction. "They were characters in the show. These people had become so real to me from the television screen that it was disorienting to see them in person. And exciting, too. PS, I took the job."     "And brought Nick his coffee?"     "Some mornings he brought me mine . And he also talked to me. And let me learn the business. At least, as much as it's possible to learn about a business so quirky and complicated.... I hated leaving that show: there was so much camaraderie around that studio. But when I got the offer from `Heartbreak Hospital' ... Well, it was just too good to turn down."     "Any regrets now?"     "Only one."     "Let me guess," Troy said. "Sunday Tyler."     "It's not that she leans on me very hard. I'm small potatoes--not worth the energy. She just acts as if I'm not there. But I am there, and I see her flog everyone around me, and it's not easy to take."     "Who gets it the most?"     "Right now, I'd say Bob Neffer."     "The head writer."     "Sunday absolutely refuses to admit the existence of writers, not even as a necessary evil. When she gets a script, she considers it a personal affront that someone is daring to put words into her mouth. Not that Bob actually writes scripts."     "Then what does he do?"     "The head writer does the long-term story. Then there are three breakdown writers who do the daily outlines. Then there are three more writers who actually write scripts from those outlines. Of course, every now and then the producers get someone else to contribute a long-term story, and sometimes other people write the outlines, and the breakdown writers occasionally write scripts.... "She saw his befuddled expression and laughed. "I'm confusing you again. The truth is, most soaps these days are hardly models of efficient operation. The lines of responsibility have got pretty muddled, especially in the last five or ten years. Probably because the stakes have got bigger."     "What stakes?"     "Money, of course. Soaps are big business. Did you hear the capital letters? BIG BUSINESS. Most of the network profit comes from day parts, because the production is relatively cheap compared to prime time. It's all those weepy women and unwanted babies who are paying for those helicopters and car chases on prime time."     "So that makes them inefficient?"     "It makes them nervous . Everybody is a bundle of nerves in soap opera. They're so worried about the ratings and the network and their jobs that they spend half their time covering their ass." Troy's pasta-filled mouth drooped slightly. He should have been accustomed to every degree of bad language by now, but coming from Kiki Carney's delicate lips ... "Look," she said, "I didn't mean to tell you what was wrong with this business. It's still a lot of fun if you relax and enjoy it. Unfortunately, Bob Neffer, the head writer, can't. His job is definitely on the line."     "Then it wasn't a joke? About his not being around very long?"     "Let's say there are ... rumors."     "Doesn't he have a contract?"     "He does--for the next two years. But most actors and writers have a cute little clause in their contract which gives the show the option to fire you every thirteen weeks."     "And you think they're about to exercise it?"     "It wouldn't surprise anybody. `Heartbreak's' already chewed up and spat out five head writers in the past year and a half. The last two were pure and simple hatchet jobs, and guess who was wielding it."     "Our gal Sunday?"     "Smart cop. And now Bob Neffer is on her list. He made the mistake of ignoring her latest story suggestion."     "So she's a writer, too?"     "Actors are always coming up with story ideas, starring themselves, naturally. Usually, they get a friendly pat on the hand and that's the end of it. But not in Sunday's case. These days, you can hear the sound of a blade being sharpened all the way to the studio control room."     "Does she really have the power to get people fired?"     "Sunday has the network convinced that she's the only reason the show is in the top five of the ratings. Unfortunately," Kiki said ruefully, "she might even be right."     "Is she that good?"     "She's The Bitch . I can't tell you how important that job is on a soap. It's unthinkable for a daytime serial--or night time, for that matter--not to have at least one world class Bitch making trouble for everyone, seducing every man in sight, including the married ones, lying, cheating, scheming ..."     "You'd think women would find someone like that threatening."     "They identify with her. They want to be her. You go to these focus sessions--"     "What are those?"     "It's a type of research. They put a dozen or so women viewers into a room and ask them about the soap they watch. Meanwhile, another group of show people and agency executives are watching them --through a one-way mirror. Or is it two-way? I never could get that straight."     "And they like the Bitch, is that it?"     "They may `like' the `good' women. But they admire and envy the wicked ones. Many of them wouldn't watch the show without her. And of all the Bitches in daytime, there isn't one they love to hate more than Andrea Harmon. Now you can see why Sunday Tyler is such a menace to oncoming traffic."     "Not quite," Troy said judiciously. "I know Success Spoils, but--there must be exceptions."     "You're right," Kiki nodded. "There are plenty of successful show people who don't turn into Yetis. But that's just the problem. Sunday doesn't believe she's successful. Deep down, Sunday actually hates `Heartbreak Hospital.' She thinks she ought to be in Hollywood, being a star . Like Kathleen Turner, for instance--she was on a soap once. Sunday keeps waiting for that lightning to strike, and it just won't."     "So she's dropping her own thunderbolts."     "Anywhere she can. That's why I'm really afraid for Norm --I mean for Bob Neffer." Troy didn't comment on the slip, but Kiki decided to explain it. "Norman is a scripter who works for Bob. A friend of mine. He'll be out of work, too, if Bob gets the ax. That would be a shame. He's very good."     "And what about the producer? Your boss Badger? And Phyllis What's-her-name? And yourself, for that matter?"     "Nobody's safe from her ," Kiki said. "Whatever Sunday wants, Sunday gets. And we've already wasted too much time talking about her."     "Yeah--what about this `police' story? If you're not going to kill off Sunday, what are you going to do?"     "We're going to kill someone else." She looked at her watch and bit her pretty underlip. "It's almost one-twenty. The dry run of today's show is at one-thirty. Do you have time to go back to the studio with me?"     "I'm all yours," Troy said.     Studio 22 was housed in a West Side building he had passed a hundred times without speculating about its tenants. The wait for the elevator was interminable, so Kiki led him through a dimly-lit hallway to the largest freight elevator he had ever seen, big enough to hoist elephants playing grand pianos. It stopped only once before they reached their third floor destination, and the most stunning woman Troy had ever seen stepped inside. He wasn't too surprised when Kiki greeted her as "Sunday." What did surprise him was the fact that she was carrying a bloodstained ax. Copyright © 1990 Henry Slesar. All rights reserved.