‘Soft-Boiled’ Private Eye Makes Debut : Books: ‘A Perfect Death for Hollywood’ hero is creation of Huntington Beach author Richard Nehrbass. A second book is already being readied for publication.


There’s a new private eye on the Southern California scene.

He’s Vic Eton: a widower, former LAPD detective and father of a 13-year-old-daughter, who has been free-lancing as a private investigator for the Hollywood studios.

Eton is the creation of Huntington Beach author Richard Nehrbass, and in his first outing, “A Perfect Death for Hollywood,” the naked body of a young prostitute has been discovered under the “H” of the Hollywood sign. But there’s a bizarre twist to the murder: Before the girl died, someone drove nails through her wrists and ankles.

The press has dubbed it “The Crucifixion Killing.” Our man Eton is hired by the dead girl’s friend--a high-class call girl with close ties to a studio chief--to find out who killed the girl.

It doesn’t take long before another crucified body--that of a record company president--is found beneath the “O” of the sign.


“A Perfect Death for Hollywood” (HarperCollins; $18.95) is Nehrbass’ first novel and the first in a series of mysteries featuring his dry-witted, easy-going private eye.

“This is not really the hard-boiled, Sam Spade type of detective. It’s more of a soft-boiled thing,” said Nehrbass, 48. “Actually, I tried to make it realistic. I don’t like the super-hero types.”

The soft-boiled approach is reflected in Eton’s relationship with his bright, independent daughter, Tracy. Nehrbass describes their relationship as “very close: He worries about leaving her alone, and she worries about him not being married.”

Nehrbass, himself married with three sons, said his own parental feelings come through in writing about the relationship between Eton and his daughter. “I don’t think I could have done this without being a parent--not that kind of relationship,” he said.

Like his fictional detective who quit the police force because of a dislike for bureaucracy, Nehrbass said he quit his job as an accountant for General Motors in Van Nuys 22 years ago.

For the past 18 years, he has been teaching organizational behavior at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The professor of management began writing fiction in 1983 and turned out one unpublished mainstream psychological thriller before creating his detective.

A longtime mystery fan, he said he likes “the fact that mysteries are intellectually challenging. There’s a puzzle element to it that I enjoy.”

He chose Hollywood as his setting, he said, not only because he has always enjoyed movies but because he feels the public shares his interest in the entertainment industry.

Nehrbass said he does “informal research” for his books by reading publications that deal with the movie business and by making occasional forays up to Hollywood with his note pad and camera. The Hollywood apartment on Rossmore Street where his fictional detective lives is modeled after a Gothic apartment building on Rossmore once owned by Mae West. Recalls the author, who lived nearby in the mid-’60s: “We used to see her driving down the street in a big limo.”

Nehrbass, who works on two books at once, said he writes during the summer and mornings when he doesn’t have classes. “I just can’t write and teach on the same day,” he said. “It’s mentally so tiring to be in front of the classroom.”

He’s gotten a lot of writing done this summer: He’s editing his second Vic Eton mystery--due out next summer--and writing numbers three and four.

Fullerton College journalism department chairman Julie Davey has tapped her background as apolitical reporter in Texas in the late ‘60s to write her first novel.

“La Caridad” (Ashley Books; $14.95) is a suspense novel whose main character is a young Texas newspaper reporter named Suzanne Long. While on a routine assignment in northern Mexico for a story on an international charity called La Caridad (the Charity), Long stumbles upon a conspiracy to control global oil production and supplies.

“I covered Texas and northern Mexico, so I interacted with a lot of politicians and oilmen,” said Davey, 49, who lives in Duarte. “A lot of the book is actually based on incidents that happened.”

Davey said one incident in particular, in which she discovered a wealthy American woman who was being held against her will in Mexico, always stuck in her mind.

“I thought maybe I’d write a book about that incident,” she said. “It turned out that that wasn’t enough of a plot, so I devised a larger, conspiratorial plot of international intrigue around it. That was the oil business.”

Davey said she worked on the novel periodically for several years but never finished it. Then, in late 1989, she sent a synopsis of the book and sample chapters to a New York literary agent, who expressed interest.

“That put a fire under me and I finished it. I really felt there was a story to be told,” said Davey, who describes “La Caridad” as a political thriller with a message: “That the poor in Mexico are really at the mercy of the rich and powerful. That may sound simplistic, but it’s as true today as it was 50 years ago.”

There are, she said, vast oil reserves in Mexico “that aren’t being developed.

“I truly believe there’s an effort to retain the status quo in Mexico. It’s to no one’s advantage--to anyone in power right now--to change anything. They’ve got the money and power. And that’s not just in Mexico. It’s the rich Texans and the rich Arabs. If Mexico became a rich oil-producing nation it would upset the status quo in many countries.”

Of course, said Davey, when the oil producers involved in the plot to control global oil supplies discover that a reporter is onto their scheme, “they try to eliminate her.”

Davey said she received death threats during her reporting days. “But not,” she said with a laugh, “for anything so global.”