Since the beginning of his career, Rupert Holmes has been a quick study. He has shown amazing versatility, demonstrating time and again his ability to learn a new art and to master it quickly. This craft started early when, during his college years, he worked in New York City’s Tin Pan Alley, performing a variety of tasks including musical session work, writing and arranging songs and jingles, backup singing, and producing recordings. By the age of twenty-four, he had gained a reputation as a writer of songs that told stories in narrative fashion, including the 1971 the Buoys’ hit, “Timothy.” During the 1970’s, Holmes became a recording artist in his own right, compiling a number of albums featuring original tunes frequently covered by other singers. His pop singing career reached its apex late in the decade with the smash “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” which made it into both domestic and worldwide charts in 1979 and 1980, although it did not win a Grammy, an award that has thus far eluded the writer. Many of Holmes’s clever lyrics, frequently featuring criminal acts, as well as his well-written short stories, appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
In the 1980’s, Holmes, long a fan of written and broadcast mystery fiction and a lover of historical subjects, became a playwright, turning Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), into a musical that garnered five 1986 Tony Awards, including three—best book, best music, and best lyrics—given to Holmes, and picked up an Edgar Award as well, for best play. Much of the success of the play rested on Holmes’s innovation of stopping the action at the very point where Dickens had left off, so the audience could vote on which character they thought committed the murder; Holmes wrote lines for all the possible suspects, giving the play a number of alternative endings. The author followed that success with a play, Accomplice, a parody of a traditional Golden Age mystery, which won an Edgar Award. Other Holmes plays include the mystery-thriller Solitary Confinement, which features a man trapped in a building with an assassin hired to kill him, and Thumbs, a drama that brings a spouse-murderer and a serial killer into conflict. During the 1990’s, Holmes began to work in television, writing all fifty-six episodes—and all of the incidental music—for the American Movie Channel’s first original series, Remember WENN, an Emmy Award-winning comedy-drama Holmes created, set in 1939 at a Pittsburgh radio station.
In the twenty-first century, Holmes added novel writing to his repertoire: Where the Truth Lies (2003) and Swing (2005) combine the author’s primary interests, mystery, history and music. Both novels demonstrate the author’s considerable writing skills, particularly his ability to juggle many plot points, his eye for telling detail, his ear for realistic dialogue, his creation of large casts of believable characters, and his predilection for mixing humor and drama. In his two novels, Holmes has shown a remarkable talent for matching the style of his writing to the period in which it is placed: Where the Truth Lies, set in the mid-1970’s, features breezy, self-conscious, and sometimes satirical, cynical language, whereas the writing in Swing, a story revolving around events in San Francisco in 1940, is more straightforward, harder-edged, and crisper. Neither book displays an...
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