The reason I love and write thrillers…

North by Northwest Film Poster
North by Northwest aka The Best Film Ever!

Pitch perfect is a good way to describe the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. Known as the master of suspense, Hitchcock also mastered humor, sexual innuendo, and anti-cold war sentiments into this thriller that unfolds like a thousand-dollar grey flannel suit, without a wrinkle. Hitchcock had dabbled in the ‘wrong man accused’ plot many times before, but to me, this is his crowning achievement. The through-line is always the same, a person is going about their normal, everyday life, and they are suddenly thrust into a world and circumstances that threaten their everything and are forced to find a way out and clear their name.

Hitchcock’s ‘common touch’ is at full strength during the entire film. Most notably brought about by his ability to reveal character by having the plot attack the protagonist. Through this, he weaves an indelible empathetic connection to the character. In North by Northwest, he starts off, already halfway down the block on Empathy Street, by brilliantly casting the charismatic, Cary Grant in the role of Roger Thornhill. Thornhill is a New York ad exec, back in the late ’50s when that meant something, being ripped from his three-martini lunch, by a case of mistaken identity. His mistake? He merely stands up in the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room at the exact wrong moment.

As the plot piles on, Thornhill must catch on – or be dead. Being innocent of everything the bad guys, the police, and the newspapers are accusing him of doesn’t matter, all that matters is survival. Hitchcock then ups the temperature by giving us a false glimmer of hope, some alphabet soup, three-letter agency, deep within the federal government knows Thornhill is innocent but in a chilling bureaucratic moment of callousness decide that he is expendable.

So, he’s toast. But then Thornhill, fighting to stay alive, starts to threaten the government’s interests, and they are reluctantly forced to ‘seemingly’ come to his aid.

A stroke of brilliance that keeps the wrong man theme ever-present is that for all but the last minutes of the film, Thornhill is in the same grey flannel suit he was abducted in. At one point escaping a death trap on the dusty plains of the Midwest in his Brook Brother’s only to have it “sponged and pressed” in 20 minutes so he could go on being so out of place in the wrong battle uniform against the forces of evil. Namely, the uniform of the corporate dweeb as he stumbles through and defeats by the skin of his teeth plot after plot to dispatch him with extreme prejudice.

What is drama after all, but life with the dull bits cut out. - Alfred Hitchcock

As I write this, I am beginning to see where the inspiration for my new book, Forgive Us Our Trespasses sprang from. In fact, the subtitle for this sequel to my #1 bestseller, Give Us This Day is; Innocent is not a Defense. Hmmm…

Okay, so imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Calling Anthony …Anthony…Carlos Danger

From the public files of, “It’s Only Fiction `til It Happens…”

The master of intelligent suspense, author Linda Fairstein, was recently on the radio discussing her new book, Death Angel, when she related a story to the show’s host that in her first draft she had created a character that was a New York political type who had gotten mired in a Sexting scandal. Her agent pushed for and succeeded in getting her to remove the character from the manuscript because it was, and I am paraphrasing, “too unbelievable” or some such expression of, ‘far fetched’… it should be noted that Linda Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades as well as a brilliant author!

Welcome Anthony Putz:

In case you haven’t heard, here in New York, we got a guy from Brooklyn running for Mayor, Anthony Wiener.  He’s a freak of the highest order. His ego knows no limits, matrimonial or legal.  He practices a form of “electioneering” that takes all the wrong lessons from our political past and combines them into one very ugly new paradigm.  He’s a object lesson of why sometimes technology in the wrong hands, his hands pointing back at himself, doesn’t deliver on the promised utopia it might otherwise had achieved. Continue reading “Calling Anthony …Anthony…Carlos Danger”

The Wall

Tom Avitabile | The Wall
Berlin Wall art on exhibit at 53rd St. in Manhattan. Click to enlarge.

In my novel, Hammer of God, a relic of the Cold War war-fighting machine plays a key role in a terrorist attack today. I grew up during the Cold War. It left an indelible mark on me, and probably everyone else who, as part of their school day, had to practice being immolated and turned into nuclear ash. Ostensibly as neat piles under our desks to make the clean up easier or why else have us duck and cover?

An iconic symbol of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall.  An actual concrete wall, which was built after World War II, to split the city into two parts. The East Germans lived on the other side, the side that was connected to the Communists, the Russians or in short, the Enemy.

In later years, when things changed, I remember a factoid that the average East German visitor to NYC dropped $23.22 a day into the local economy. A Japanese tourist spent $989 per day.

The reason for all this nostalgia is that, last night, I went to a restaurant located behind the Berlin Wall!  Albeit a piece of it, now residing in a plaza on 53rd Street in NYC. I was struck by the fact that the cheapest (and there was only one) entree on the menu was $37.50.  My appetizer alone cost my host for the evening, $25.00. So just the first course would blow the average East German visitor’s budget into dust.

That fact caused me to remember that nobody fired a single shot during the entire Cold War! In fact, it ended like a game of Monopoly. The other side just ran out of money.

So as dozens of Christmas Party goers who collectively dropped $1,200 to $1,800 per table on this one part of one night’s entertainment, passed by this huge chunk of concrete on their way in to the restaurant, maybe 1 in 10 knew what the hell it was.  And even smaller odds that it was America’s robust economy that defeated all the nightmares, terrorizing classroom drills and nuclear paranoia that gripped this country no so long ago.

Admittedly the restaurant goers I am writing about are the top end of business folks and well to do revelers and most of them are on expense accounts.  But still the irony was not lost on me.  That even though today America may be heading for a fiscal cliff, years ago we avoided the Wall.

I Love A Parade

This is a very important election for New Yorkers. They will be deciding who will tie up their traffic for the next four years.
– Barack Obama

Recently during Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg respectfully requested that the President come nowhere near New York City. That’s because a presidential visit has an inordinate impact on the infrastructure and connectivity of the City on the best of days. During a storm, it would have been positively lethal. The mayor was 100% right.

Tom Avitabile, The Hammer of GodAs Mayor Bloomberg alluded, to live in New York is to curse the President. Especially when you’re in traffic. Even more especially when you’re watching the meter in your cab go past the $20 mark because a cop three blocks away has cordoned off your street in order for the president to get from one hotel to another. And you sit back and you think: Why are we doing this?

As written elsewhere in this blog, my first exposure to anything presidential was in 1968 when Lyndon Johnson flew over my head in the blue and white Air Force One 707 (Tail number 26000). Just seeing the plane created a sense of awe and wonderment, and since those early days I’ve been hooked by all things presidential.

That doesn’t stop me from thinking critically, though. Is this visit worth spending millions of dollars in security? Is it worth tying up all this traffic? Why put up with this terrible impact on the City of New York’s ability to generate wealth for an entire day? And why are streets blocked off for hours even after he’s passed? No one has ever explained that one to me.

And then I begin to wonder if he is even in that limo. Wouldn’t it make more sense to drive Continue reading “I Love A Parade”