As for “Aaron Broom,” Mr. Hotchner had written biographies of Doris Day and Sophia Loren, musicals with Cy Coleman, a novel called “The Man Who Lived at the Ritz” — and a memoir of “Papa Hemingway,” about his years as a loyal but not particularly obsequious companion and confidant to the hard-living writer. But he had never written a murder mystery, and that was what he said he had in mind: a murder mystery set against the background of a boyhood disrupted by the chaos of the Great Depression.
He had already written a memoir about such a boyhood, “King of the Hill,” published in 1972. It was made into a movie, released in 1993, that was directed by Stephen Soderbergh, by then famous for “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”
The father in both books is struggling to sell watches in the Depression, the family home is a couple of rooms in a hotel that has seen better days, the family car is in danger of being repossessed. In both, the father finds hope in a job through the Works Progress Administration.
But Mr. Hotchner did not just write the same book over again. “‘King of the Hill’ was me as I sort of remembered myself,” he said. “This time I decided that I would improve him, let him be things that I wasn’t but would like to have been.”
So Aaron Broom “had more bravado than I ever had,” he said. Mr. Hotchner said he would not have broken into a woman’s apartment, as Aaron Broom did.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “That was too out of the ordinary of who I was. But I had lived life with bullies during the Depression. There was a big bully who was bopping me on the head, and with Aaron, I was able to put him in his place.” With, he said, a swift kick to a place that cannot be mentioned here.
Inevitably, a conversation with Mr. Hotchner turns to Hemingway. They met in Havana in 1948 when Mr. Hotchner was working for Cosmopolitan magazine, tracking down well-known people and persuading them to write something serious for Cosmopolitan. This was before Helen Gurley Brown. For the biggest name of all, there was the biggest topic: The future of literature.