The Solution Becomes Part of His Newest Mystery Novel


PRLog (Press Release)—January 31, 2012—For author and historian
John Dandola, his hometown of West Orange, New Jersey, has
offered a limitless canvas on which to create mystery novels. It has
garnered him not only a New Jersey Author Award but international
readership as well. Like his previous West Orange novels, this newest
one is set during the 1940's and entitled Dead in Small Doses.

Dandola's inspiration runs quite deep since his Irish ancestors settled
in what is now West Orange prior to the Revolutionary War; his
Italian ancestors settled there in the 1880's; and his grandfather—
after whom his lead character is named and closely patterned—
worked as a personal messenger boy to Thomas Edison, whose
laboratory is situated on Main Street. As a child, Dandola himself
was taught how to play chess by the youngest Edison son, Teddy,
who is also a character in the novels.

But this author's work is not limited to fiction. He wrote the
chronological history, Greetings from West Orange, New Jersey,
for use in grammar schools because the town's history has always
been presented in a scatter-shot fashion with no sense of logical
order and an overuse of hackneyed "tradition has it" or "legend has it"
explanations. Dandola knows his turf and he does the required
research. He actually digs until he finds out why "tradition" or "legend" pass things down as they have and in that there is often a new discovery. A case in point would be that the wrong year is celebrated as the town's founding but he knows how and why that mistake came about. He also gives the historically correct names and historically correct boundaries of each section of town (which in recent years have been completely mislabeled). Then there is his conclusion that what has been given for generations as the origin of the name "Orange" defies logic and he supplies the most probable derivation (which he details once again in Dead in Small Doses).

Whether writing fact or fiction, Dandola always gives a very real depiction of everyday life and events in West Orange along with portraits of the very real people who lived there.

When Dandola wrote the history of the West Orange Fire Department for its centennial in 1994, he sorted through the time-honored story that the department had been founded as a result of a fire which leveled a square block of the town. What he uncovered was the origin of the blaze: corrupt politicians had set fire to a ballot box in order to skew the results of an election. In the end, a county judge ordered that the thwarted candidate be sworn into office even though the corrupt politicians who set the fire were never prosecuted.

Recently, when Dandola considered writing a similar history of the West Orange Police Department, he came across the unsolved 1883 murder which eventually gave rise to that department's founding. Dandola scrutinized the conflicting newspaper accounts of the day and managed to piece together the most likely scenario. What's more, he solved the murder and it became an extensive flashback in Dead in Small Doses which fictitiously has Thomas Edison and his messenger boy tackling the exact same cold case in 1917.

"The solution was basically about human nature and logistics, " Dandola explained. "The newspaper reporters were not local and each article muddied the waters further. They had pieces which just didn't fit but they tried to jam them together. When it comes to this town, I know the topography; I know the streets; I know the town mindset; those reporters didn't. West Orange was very rural back then. It didn't have its own police force. It relied on the neighboring City of Orange for police, fire, and a host of other services all of which were doled out half-heartedly. The Newark police also got in on the act since Newark was the county seat where the case would be tried. Unfortunately, both outside police departments trampled all over the evidence and withheld a great deal of it."

The very real 1883 murder and its solution are part of a trio of West-Orange-based stories which are interwoven within an all-encompassing fourth mystery, hence the title Dead in Small Doses.

This is the second outing in which Dandola's Tony Del Plato character assists eccentric millionaire inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr. (an Edison protégé about whom Dandola has also written the only biography), and movie actress Marjorie Reynolds who, fresh from her second movie alongside Bing Crosby, gets the three of them involved in a jaunt from West Orange to Massachusetts to the Caribbean.

The synopsis:

John Dandola's intimate knowledge of filmmaking during the days of Hollywood's Studio System serves him well in creating the premise and he certainly does know how to keep his hometown's often-forgotten legacy alive.

Dead at the Box Office (also known as West of Orange
), which began Dandola's West Orange mystery series, was written at the behest of the late Orson Welles and is set during the Edison, the Man World Premiere of 1940. It is the only accurate and detailed representation of the event because Dandola had access not only to local participants but Hollywood participants and original documents as well.

Dead in Their Sights deals with Nazi sabotage at the Edison factory which was a very real concern during World War II. Dandola had interviews with many of that era's employees since his great-aunt was a shop steward at the factory from the 1930's through the 1960's. The same novel also has an appearance by Joan Caulfield, the 1940's movie actress who grew up in West Orange and with the kind assistance of the late actress' daughter-in-law, Dandola was able fill in the blanks about how she spent her life locally and correct previous newspaper inaccuracies.

Dead by All Appearances reveals exactly what type of secret experiments Edison was doing at Eagle Rock during World War I because Dandola had access to the papers of another inventor who was involved.

Although the producer who holds the film rights to the first three West Orange novels has first refusal, several other movie inquiries have come in after pre-publication copies of Dead in Small Doses were distributed within the entertainment community.

"Whenever one of my West Orange novels debuts, there's always nibbles from Hollywood. Having my stories continually optioned for movies is a very big compliment; they seem to conjure up something which others would like to capture on film. But period pieces cost a great deal of money to produce. I have no control over the purse strings in making anything come to fruition even though I have even been asked to help find locations to double for the once-upon-time West Orange which had such a nice small-town quality and for the now-vanished Edison Industries."

Dead in Small Doses is published by Compass Point Mysteries (435 pages, $16.95) and is available through the publisher's web site at

John Dandola is a member of the Mystery Writers of America for his novels; the Writers Guild of America for his screenplays; and the Dramatists Guild of America for his plays.

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to read about
The Great West Orange History Flub

Copyright © 2012 by The Quincannon Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
Author Solves a 19th-Century Cold Case in

West Orange, New Jersey
On the cover is the
Caribbean Great House visited by the author in his travels which became the inspiration for one of the novel's locales.
In the spring of 1943, through his Edison family connections, West Orange resident Tony Del Plato gets a surprising assignment when Paramount Pictures decides to make one of its Popular Science movie shorts about inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr. Filming will take place not only at Hammond's grandiose castle-home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but also aboard his yacht on a trip to the Caribbean. Tony's job: bodyguard to actress Marjorie Reynolds, who suggested the movie and will be featured in it.

Throughout the course of the novel, Tony reveals some of his mysterious background through a trio of stories about his tutoring by Thomas Edison, his solving of an actual West Orange cold case from the 1880's, and his association with notorious New Jersey gangster Abner "Longy" Zwillman. But those stories aside, filming on location also manages to embroil Tony and Marjorie in a Caribbean murder.