Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Guestpost: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Greg Messel

by Greg Messel

A trip back in time to the 1950s world of my novels "Last of the Seals," “Deadly Plunge” and “San Francisco Secrets” is full of reminders how much the world has changed.

One of the most obvious changes involves the social mores surrounding smoking. When I began my career in the corporate world in the 1970s, I remember conference rooms being smoke filled with ash tray spilling over with cigarette butts and ashes.

I remember the smoking sections on airplanes. I remember being in the last row of the non smoking section which was pretty much the same as sitting in the smoking section.

Flight attendants still warn you on airplane flights to not smoke in the bathrooms. That warning is about 35 years old now.

Today smokers must huddle around the doorways of office buildings to grab a cigarette outside. There are enclosed rooms at airports for smokers. That's fine with me but it has been a monumental change.

In today’s business world it would be considered appalling if in the middle of an office, someone lit up a cigarette.

In the 1950s, smoking was even more pronounced. My grandparents were both chain smokers and I remember as a child or a teenager, that you could actually see smoke rolling out the door when you entered their house. I was exposed to massive amounts of second hand smoke for years.

My grandparents are long gone but when I picture them in my mind’s eye, they are holding a cigarette.

In my mystery novels set in the 1950s, everyone smokes and pretty much non stop. They are constantly lighting up--even baseball players like Sam Slater.

Sophisticated, glamorous San Franciscans of the 1950s, like Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan nearly always had a cigarette in their hands. Watch movies from the 1950s or 1960s to witness how it was just part the persona of the attractive, urbane persona. Watch an old “Tonight Show” when Johnny Carson smokes one cigarette after another with guests like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.

In “San Francisco Secrets” the first thing everyone does when they are in a stressful situation is to light up a cigarette. When Sam and Amelia nearly have a fatal crash on one of San Francisco’s steepest hills, they immediately reach for their cigarettes to light up as they recover from the trauma.

I’ve watched vintage cigarette commercials which played on television in the 1950s. They are funny but somewhat disturbing when you look back on them with our knowledge about the impact on health from cigarettes.

Brands like Kool and Newport touted the soothing effect on a raw throat from their filtered cigarettes. There is a famous ad for Camel’s cigarettes which includes the tag line “According to a recent Nationwide survey: More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.”

When Sam and Amelia visit Dr. John O’Dell in “San Francisco Secrets”, the first thing the medical doctor offers the couple is a cigarette. At their first meeting, Sam asks the doctor if cigarettes are bad for your health.

Dr. O’Dell advises Sam “there are benefits of smoking as long as you don’t overdo it. I think smoking filtered cigarettes like these Winstons helps,” the doctor says. “It cuts down on the irritation to the throat. Smoking actually releases a couple of chemicals in the brain, which relieves tension and helps you experience pleasure.”

The doctor also tells Sam that smoking can aid in weight loss and releases chemicals in the brain which are similar to the sensation that you experience when you kiss a pretty woman.

The doctor’s advice is the common thinking of the times and the narrative from the tobacco companies. Dr. O’Dell tries to convince Sam that smoking a cigarette is almost as pleasurable as kissing Amelia. Sam’s not buying that argument.

Ah, the 1950s, when you could eat a steak dinner, light up an after dinner cigarette and not feel a bit guilty. Ignorance is bliss I guess.

About the Author:

Greg Messel grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Edmonds, Washington on the Puget Sound with his wife, Carol. San Francisco Secrets is his sixth novel and is the third in a new series of Sam Slater mystery novels. Greg has lived in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Utah and has always loved writing, including stints as a reporter, columnist and news editor for a daily newspaper.

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About the Book:

Noted novelist and newspaper editor Edgar Watson Howe once said. “A man who can keep a secret may be wise but he is not half as wise as a man with no secrets to keep”

As the spring of 1958 arrives in San Francisco, it seems that baseball player turned private eye, Sam Slater and his fiancée, TWA stewardess Amelia Ryan, are surrounded by people who have secrets.

A prominent doctor, John O’Dell is being blackmailed by someone who has discovered a dark secret from his past. When the private investigator trying to catch the blackmailer is murdered, Dr. O’Dell hires Sam Slater to try to pick up the pieces. Someone is playing for keeps and will do anything to protect their own secrets.

Meanwhile, Amelia begins her new job as an international stewardess which takes her on adventures to New York City, London, Paris and Rome. In hot pursuit is a womanizing older pilot who has his sights set on Amelia.

Their lives get even more complicated when a mysterious woman from Sam’s past returns.

Sam and Amelia’s relationship will be tested as they work together to solve the mystery on the foggy streets of San Francisco.

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