Mike Jahn


I wrote The Quark Maneuver in the early 1970s after having spent the first half dozen years of my career writing about music, TV, and the movies for several publications, predominantly The New York Times. Correspondingly, I was accustomed to periodic sleepovers at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, often while trying to get a foot in the door of Hollywood  screenwriting. The only thing to come of that was a script I thought perfect for Harry Guardino and Brenda Vaccaro, who were at the heights of their careers at the time. I had always wanted to write mysteries and was in love with the Inspector Maigret stories by Georges Simenon. I felt that New York City needed its own Maigret. At the same time I also was obsessed with The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (book 1971, movie 1973). Between the two I had the notion of taking a middle-aged, going-to-seed sort of character and sticking him a thriller plot, adding a girlfriend. 

That’s sort of what Forsyth did in Jackal,  minus the girlfriend, though his Claude Lebel is hardly as studiously middle aged as Jules Maigret. Nonetheless, sticking an anomalous hero in a thriller won Forsyth fame, public acclaim and an Edgar Award. So I wrote a screenplay titled The Jericho Incident, booked myself into the Chateau Marmont, and shopped it around. There was some polite applause, but no sale. I doubt that Harry Guardino and Brenda Vaccaro ever got wind of it. Finally, a well-respected Hollywood agent told me to go back to New York and turn it into a novel.  

After 18 rejections it was bought by Ballantine, the publisher that rejected it the first time (a new and clearly more visionary editor had come on board). She considered the title too obscure. We changed it to The Quark Maneuver, referring to ... oh, never mind, that would be a spoiler. Our mistake was that in the early 1970s no one beyond physicists and a few science geeks had heard the word “quark,” nor could spell it. Likewise with the name of the Harry Guardino character, Paul DiGioia, the middle-aged, paunchy and somewhat grumpy detective lieutenant. The Brenda Vaccaro role was Diana Contardo, a lost and lonely 26-year-old who ran an Italian restaurant near the East River and who, fortuitously, got her exercise by doing martial arts. So here we had a pretty 20-something girl with sad eyes hooking up with a 42-year old man who life had beaten up a bit. The should-have-been-predictable result was that she took over the.whole.book as readily as she took over DiGioia. 

Whatever, The Quark Maneuver worked. People loved the combination of who'd-have-thunk-it heroes and thriller plot (that had a bit of a stealth mystery in it). Paul and Diana tore themselves away from Contardo's ("fine Italian food") and she rode off in her white 1970 Pinto to save the world. Six years after Forsyth got his Edgar I got mine. 

I was so enamored of the team of Paul DiGioia and Diana Contardo that, in the early 1980s, I brought them back, with the names Bill Donovan and Marcia Barnes, in Night Rituals, the first Bill Donovan Mystery. In 2012, exactly 35 years since they first came to life, Paul and Diana live on as Donovan and Marcy in the Donovan books. New York has its own Maigret, and he's hooked up with New York's own Emma Peel. Here, in The Quark Maneuver, is the moment of their creation.


Don't ask.


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