Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want? Guest Post from Janice Hamrick for Texas Mystery Writers Month

May is Texas Mystery Writers Month, and we’re celebrating with guest posts from Texas authors all month long. Up next, we have one of our favorite Austin mystery writers, Janice Hamrick, whose novels, like her personality, sparkle with dry wit and charming details. We couldn’t celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month without her.


Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want?


Guest Post from Janice Hamrick

Texas is a goldmine of inspiration for writers. Need a setting? Take your pick – coastal fishing village, desert ghost town, hill country honky tonk, or sophisticated metropolis. Need some background? Try crooked politics, ranching dynasties, wild west outlawry, heroic revolution, or high tech scandal. Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans.

Now don’t get me wrong. Other places have their characters. I’m currently living in Edinburgh, and trust me, you can’t swing a cat on the Royal Mile without taking out someone playing the bagpipes or telling the chilling story of one of the many ghosts who linger in the dark narrow closes of Old Town. But it’s a different kind of character.

“Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans…”

Texans are as varied as the state itself. Heroes, villains, sneaks, nerds, even ordinary teachers forced to confront a stone cold killer – they are all there, and all just a little extraordinary simply because they are Texan. Something about the grandeur of Texas permeates the atmosphere, makes everyone stand up just a little straighter, live just a little larger, be just a little bit more than they would be in any other location. Spend five minutes talking to the woman serving pie at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle or a minute and a half with the ranch hand holding your horse at Rancho Cortez in Bandera and you have enough inspiration to spark a dozen novels. The very best Texans are open, friendly, and direct – boy, are they direct. But at least they never leave you wondering how they feel about a topic, and if they’ve been Texan for longer than six months, they are proud both of their past and their present (and the more different that is from anything ‘up north,’ the better).

There aren’t many places that inspire such fervent devotion, not many states that people so proudly claim as part of their identity. “I’m a Texan,” is a statement that always draws nods of understanding, even as far away as Europe. I recently met a student from Norway, and in response to my accent, he ventured, “You are from one of the two countries in North America, are you not? I don’t dare guess which.”

I smiled and said, “Yes, I’m from Texas.”

His face lit up, and he said, “Ah, I should have said one of the three countries in North America.”

Damn straight.


You can find Janice Hamrick’s novels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more great guest posts for Texas Mystery Writers Month. MysteryPeople is also holding a workshop with three Texas authors, including George Wier, Les Edgerton, and Reavis Wortham, this Saturday, May 23rd, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Come for part or all of the day! The workshop is free and open to the public.

MysteryPeople Double Feature: MARLOWE


– Post by Scott M. 

This Sunday, May 24th, at 6:30 P.M., MysteryPeople presents a screening of Marlowe, the film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sisterstarring James Garner as Marlowe, followed by a discussion of the book and film. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.


Phillip Marlowe may be the private detective with the most portrayals in film after Sherlock Holmes. Bogart’s iconic image gave him a tough guy edge, Elliot Gould deconstructed him, and Mitchum portrayed him as an aging knight. When it comes to being the closest to Chandler’s creation, I argue for James Garner in the fittingly titled Marlowe.

The film is based on Chandler’s The Little Sister. It was his first novel in six years. Most of that time was spent as a screenwriter under contact for Paramount, a job he despised. For the quintessential LA writer, this was the first time to cover the film business, and he writes it with an axe to grind. With a plot hinging on a blackmailed starlet in one of his funniest books, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its time.

The film, the first Marlowe film to be set in a contemporary period much later than the book was written, is hit and miss. Since it was a studio film, the makers didn’t want to stick it to themselves, so they set their sights on television. Screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who worked in the first golden age of television, co-creating Route 66, looks at what the medium has turned into. By setting it in late Sixties TV, the stakes seem lower. Also the condensing of the novel, tends to focus on the plot, Chandler’s weaker point as a writer, than his mood and view of Los Angeles.

The film’s major saving grace is James Garner. His wisecracks are delivered effortlessl,y with no posturing, like some of his predecessors. He projects both the ease and gravity that define the character. The performance also shows us some insight into the future when he creates another iconic LA private eye, Jim Rockford.

Marlowe is one of those adaptations with an interesting relationship with its source material. Its style, period, and intent are all set in the history surrounding it. It is also a great look at the character, exploring, at least partially, the cipher of Philip Marlowe.


Double Feature Stats

Adherence To Book (1-5)

I’ll give it a three. The story veers some, the tone is not completely there, but Garner completely captures Marlowe.

Adherence To Quality Of Book

This gets a two. While the film has its moments, it is not as near as funny as Chandler’s novel.

Recommended Films

Harper, The Long Goodbye, Tony Rome

Recommended Books

The Falling Star (Can be read separately or part of the mega-meta-novel The Twenty Year Death), by Ariel S Winter, The Fame Thief by Tim Hallinan, The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald

Fun Fact

The way Marlowe outwits a kung-fu thug played by Bruce Lee is repeated in a Rockford episode.


Copies of Chandler’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Marlowe on Sunday, May 24, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast. Come for the movie, stay for Scott’s defense of his favorite ever depiction of Marlowe. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier


George Wier is best know for his pulp influenced yarns involving Austin hired gun, Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, is a bit more serious (although there is plenty of humor) following a West Texas sheriff who has to deal with a man returning to town after he got him out of murder charge that he thought was wrong, though many in town believed he did it. We caught up with George Weir before he participates in our May 23rd workshop to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople: Murder In Elysium has a much different tone than the work you’re known for. What drew you to the story?

George Wier: The idea of the question of guilt or innocence drew me in, initially. I’m from a small Texas town, originally, and the townsfolk seemed to be 1) a tad insular, and 2) opinionated. If, in their eyes, someone was guilty, then usually their minds were made up and they were already on to “bigger and better things.” It didn’t matter that they weren’t there when the thing happened, or what the weight of the evidence was one way or the other, or even the lack of evidence. If you were guilty, well, that was it. Game over, fellah! But from the point of view of the person on the receiving end of the justice system, I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who was on the inside–and I’m saying all that and trying not to give anything away, of course. I think I managed to do that.

MP: Shane Robeling is much more laconic and says fewer words than most of the heroes you’ve written. How much of a challenge was that?

GA taciturn character is far easier portray when you’re writing in first person. You get to give the character’s viewpoint without a lot of dialogue in the way, and you get to paint the bulk of the picture of the other characters through their dialogue; their interactions with the main character. Most importantly, I didn’t want Shane Robeling to be Bill Travis. Shane has the professional law enforcement background that Travis lacks. He’s an insider in that world and he drew the short straw with the FBI, and this has left him jaded him, somewhat. I wanted that to come out as well. Also, I wanted to take him from his federal cases and put him in a small town setting (such as that where I grew up) and see how he would do. In a small town, everything is far more personal. There isn’t a wall between you and the rest of the world. In a small town, you rely on your neighbors. You know them and they know you. And it’s always a surprise to find out how well they know you. I think Shane does all right in Elysium. I wasn’t so sure when I started out with him, but now I’m rather proud of him. You’re right, he doesn’t say much, and I wanted what he didn’t say to be as salient as what he did.

3. The book reminds me of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series in the colorful deputies and townsfolk who help the characters. Was there any particular one who was fun to write for?

GThe two characters, M.L. “Mucho Love” Harper and Marlene, were my two favorites. I got to throw the kitchen sink into these two characters, even though they have supporting roles. I had so much fun with Mucho Love that I am now mid-way through the prequel, which is tentatively entitled Sentinel In Elysium. It stars Mucho Love as Elysium’s Police Chief (Shane’s role, later on), and all the action takes place in 1975, two years before the Fogel murder, which was the springboard for Murder In Elysium (even though all the action for the first book takes place after the turn of the millennium). In Sentinel, the reader gets to find out why it is that Mucho Love is no longer the police chief, and never will be again. I’m nearing the halfway point in the book, and it’s rather dark, but it’s also humorous and surprising. At this point, it’s my new favorite. Marlene is in there as well.

The town of Elysium, though, is probably the main supporting character for each of these books. In the prequel, I’m latching onto the opportunity to explain everything that’s in Murder In Elysium as far as the layout of the town and its history—how the Blitz Drive-In came about, the community college, the four-plex where the Fogel murder would eventually occur, even why the police department is no longer located in the Courthouse by the time Murder in Elysium rolls around. It’s a lot of fun. No, the town isn’t a thumbnail character sketch. This character has meat on his bones, and skin over the meat, and I did my best to give the skin some real texture. You’ll see. The book will be out, I’m thinking, sometime in May or June. I’m already planning the third book, which will be a proper sequel: the tentative title for which is Elysium Knights.

MP: What draws you to small Texas towns?

GW: I’m originally from a small town. I grew up in the East-Central Texas town of Madisonville during my formative years, and that town has left its stamp on me. I’ll never shake it. Also, there’s a good deal of mystery there. For instance (and this mystery may have long since been solved, but I don’t believe it ever was, officially), we had a firebug in Madisonville all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe his reign of terror lasted some thirty years. Every so often there would be a fire on the town square. First, the county courthouse burned when I was no higher than a jackrabbit. Then, spread out every four or five years, each corner of the town square would have a devastating fire. There were never, to my knowledge, any arrests for the arsons, or if there were, it never made any headlines. But…wow! I mean, you go through the town today and you may see the effects of those fires (if you knew about them) but you don’t really see it. Butlet me tell you, those effects are there. So, for me, it’s “what is going on here that nobody sees?” The short answer is, “Plenty!” That’s the real why behind Murder In Elysium. Knowing what I know, how could I not be drawn in?

MP: What is the biggest misconception about them?

GW: The biggest misconception about small towns is that the people are either slow or stupid or some combination of the two. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known was from a small town. His name was Paul Johnson, and he was a bird colonel in Air Force; he flew with the Blue Angels. By the time I knew him, he’d forgotten more about aviation, engineering, and physics than most people at the top of those field get to know in a lifetime, and he was still a font of hidden wisdom and he was sharp as a tack.

I think people tend to equate silence with a lack of knowledge or basic understanding. After all, the truly slow people don’t say much. But it’s sort of like looking across the surface of a tranquil pond in a pastoral setting. It looks plenty peaceful, but underneath the surface of that little lake there’s life and death struggle going on. It’s brutal and there’s a lot of motion that is unseen above. Small towns are like that. As I speak to in the book, they have a certain tempo, a beat, if you will, that you can’t detect simply by passing through. Don’t ever sell a small town or its citizens short. In a pinch you could quickly find yourself regretting it.

MP: What do you hope the reader gets out of Murder In Elysium?

GW: That goes back to the initial premise—guilt versus innocence. Nothing is cut and dry. I feel that justice doesn’t work well in the hands of human beings. Oh, we all have an innate, uncanny sense of justice, but it’s in the meting out of justice where we fall short. The death penalty, for instance, is a permanent fix for a temporary problem, and can’t be undone. A life sentence precludes the possibility of rehabilitation. Quite often, justice misfires. When it does, the effects are devastating. I wanted to plant a tiny seed, that’s all. I’m not overtly saying we have to tear it all down. I’m not saying that. But everything is subject to scrutiny. “Why” is far more important than “how.”

Thanks, Scott. Your questions, as always, make me think, and I do appreciate that. As you know, I’m basically a lazy person, and I don’t like to have to think so much, so thanks for making me articulate all of these things.


You can find copies of Murder In Elysium on our shelves, along with the rest of Mr. Wier’s oeuvre. Come by Saturday, May 23rd, for a workshop on crime writing presented by Sisters in Crime and Austin Mystery Writers, to find out more about writing from some of the most entertaining personalities in the whole detective-novel-writing world. George Wier will be presenting alongside Les Edgerton and Reavis Wortham. The workshop runs from 10 AM to 5 PM, and is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Craig Johnson


This Thursday, May 21st, at 7 PM, our pal Craig Johnson is back in the store. His latest Walt Longmire novel, Dry Bones, has the Wyoming sheriff involved with a murder investigation that is right in the middle of a fight for the rights to a rare and sizable Tyrannosaurs Rex fossil. Longmire must also deal with an unexpected tragedy that strikes close to him. We caught up with Craig to ask a few questions (he mostly answered) about his book, his state, and the direction of the series.


MysteryPeople: Much of Dry Bones‘ plot revolves around the discovery of the most complete Tyrannosaurus fossil and who has the rights to it. In your research, what was the most surprising thing you learned about the dino-world?

Craig Johnson: That scientists are just as capable of heinous activity as the rest of humanity. You would think that by pursuing the high-minded tract of empirical data that they would be above the petty squabbles and backbiting that plague us mere mortals, but that’s not the case. In the historic battles between Cope and Marsh, two of the greatest paleontologists in American history, they salted each others’ sites with incorrect bones, wrote horrible articles about each other, and at one point one of them had the skull of the other on his desk. All of which makes the dinosaurs seem pretty civilized.

MP: The subject reinforced the idea of how history has been an important element in the series. How does history apply to Walt’s part of the country?

CJ: Well, there’s history and then there’s history… Less than 20% of native religious items and bodies have been repatriated to the tribes, which in this day and age is ridiculous. Wyoming is the outdoors. As your good buddy James Crumley once said, “The west is the out of doors, just go to Casper, Wyoming and look at the town. That’s not the West, but look out and away, that’s the West.” I think westerners are confronted by the natural world to a greater degree, and the history is all around us, whether it be teepee rings from a couple hundred years ago, or bones from sixty-five million.

MP: Dry Bones’ plot is comparatively “light’, compared to your last few novels, yet almost halfway into the story, a large personal situation occurs that throws a somber shadow over the book. What do you have to consider when dealing with different tones and moods in a novel?

CJ: Without giving too much away, it’s happening all around us just now. Police officers are being lured into situations and being killed. I’m afraid that the truth of the matter that when you buckle on that gun belt and pin that badge on in the morning you’re never sure if you’re going to be coming home that night. You can have the characters in crime fiction blithely move from novel to novel, but that really isn’t honest to the material. When tragedy strikes it’s almost always unexpected.

MP: I thought this was your best use of Dog in the series. Other than a sounding board for Walt, what else does he bring to the stories? 

CJ: He humanizes Walt and makes him a better person, just like all our pets do for all of us if we let them. There are 5,416 species of mammals on this planet and that’s just the mammals. I think realizing we’re a part of the natural world and not some dominant species that towers above it is a good thing for all of us. We’re part of a miraculous instance that we need to be aware of, if for no other reason than to be in awe of it.

MP: This is another Walt Longmire novel where the land is as dangerous as the murder suspects. What is the most precarious circumstance you have found yourself in with Wyoming nature?

CJ: When I complain to my wife that dinner appears to be late:)

Probably up on the mountain in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. I climb Cloud Peak every other year in the Bighorn National Forest, sometimes by myself, and it’s humbling to be that far out and having to rely on only yourself with 1,731 square miles of wilderness surrounding you. Especially if the weather turns bad at thirteen thousand feet…

MP: Dry Bones feels like it’s setting up Walt for a some big changes and possible compromises of who he is. Can you tell us some of the things he will have to confront for the next ten books?

CJ: No. Sorry–you’ll have to keep reading.


Craig Johnson comes to BookPeople with his latest Longmire novel, Dry Bones, on Thursday, May 21st, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. Events are free and open to the public. In order to join the signing line, you must purchase a copy of Mr. Johnson’s latest. You can find copies of Dry Bones on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Can’t make it the event? Purchase a copy ahead of time online or over the phone and we’ll get it signed for you! 

MysteryPeople, Austin Mystery Writers, and Sisters in Crime Host Free All-Day Workshop


To celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month, MysteryPeople, along with Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime, is holding a free workshop for the public on Saturday, May 23rd, starting at 10 AM and going till around 5 PM.  Three of Texas’ top talents of crime fiction will each focus on a certain topic of writing crime fiction.


reavis worthamKicking off the knowledge at 10AM is Reavis Wortham. Reavis is a rising star in the mystery scene, due to his Red River series featuring a group of lawmen and their families in a small Texas town during the Sixties. He’ll be covering the subject of story and plot. You can find copies of Wortham’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

les edgertonAt 11:30 AM, we turn it over to Les Edgerton. Les has had stints as a burglar, convict, teacher, and hairdresser as part of his rich life. He’s put many of those experiences to use in his gritty crime novels like The Bitch and The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping. He’s the perfect person to explore the relationship between protagonist and antagonist. You can find copies of Edgerton’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

george wierAt 2 PM, after a lunch break, George Wier will take us through the editing process. George has made himself  an online success with his Austin “fixer” Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, gives us West Texas sheriff Shane Robeling. You can find copies of George Wier’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


At 3:30PM there will be a panel discussion with Les and George to cover any other topics that those attending would like to learn more about. You can come in for individual portions of the workshop or stay the whole day. Books by the authors will be available for sale and signing. Join up and let these professionals teach you some of the tricks from their trade.

All MysteryPeople events are free and open to the public. Check out our newly updated upcoming events list on our blog to find out more about our summer line-up!

A Writer In Texas Is a Texas Writer: Guest Post from George Wier for Texas Mystery Writers Month

Our celebration of Texas Mystery Writer’s Month continues with an essay by one of our favorite local authors, George Wier. His books are colored with Lone Star history and attitude. Here George explains where it comes from.


A Writer in Texas is a Texas Writer


– Post by George Wier

I found out today that a friend of mine of nearly twenty years duration is from my hometown, and I never even knew him or his family from those old days. I’m from a small East Texas town you’ve probably never heard of called Madisonville. When my family left there to move to Bryan, Texas, long about the Christmas of 1973, the population of Madisonville was roughly 3,500 souls, give or take. Now, it’s about…the same, but mostly take, or so I’ve heard. I met my friend Dan on a trip to Austin back in 1996, but I would see him and his wife and his beautiful daughter quite often after moving to here permanently in 2002. I had beat a hasty retreat from Bryan and College Station. I found in Austin a people who would accept me and my rather odd creative bent. You see, I write books. I write fiction books (known colloquially in the Eastern parts of the state as “those damn lies!”). I have written far more in the last thirteen years since I moved to Austin than I ever did the previous thirty.

The one thing that I have never shaken—and never will, can you say “Amen!” brother?—is the simple fact that I’m a Texan. Molly Ivins is purported to have said, “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” Well, that was Molly all over again. For my part, there is no perversity in it. There is, instead, something fundamentally grounding. I’m sure it’s the same no matter where a person is from. I do like to think that—I like to think that everyone else feels this same hard thump in their chest, such as when the horses come by on parade and the Lone Star flutters past. Or the sense of lost longing when parted from Texas and home for more than a scant few days. Or the sense of pride when talking about Texas with people who just…don’t know.

Let me tell you something. Now, listen close. I wasn’t simply raised in Texas. I was raised on Texas. In Texas, Texas History is a subject. There are textbooks on it, and some of them are even good. But as I grew up here I found out just how much my own family had a role in the founding of this state (we were first a sovereign country, and no, we’re never going to let anybody else forget it!). But even if the Wiers had only arrived in Texas with my father or my grandfather, my feeling for the state would be the same. Here’s why. My father, Nelson Wier, was one of the original Hellfighters. He fought oil well fires alongside Boots ‘n Coots and Red Adair. He fought them all over Texas and all over the oil platforms and drilling rigs of the Gulf of Mexico. He took me to every major big city in the state before I was ten. He introduced me to Texas oil millionaires (I spent time on Silver Dollar Jim West’s famous West Production Ranch when I was just a kid, and J.R. Parten lived mere blocks from our house) and he introduced me to old black men playing dominoes in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and barkeepers in Waco, to truck drivers and insurance salesmen. He took me to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where I met real cowboys and real cattlemen, and he took me to meet the wardens of Texas prisons. My father, you see, walked tall among the people around him. He was bigger than life. He was…a Texan.

Later in life, when I was out on my own, I drove all over the state pushing a rolling straight edge to measure the bumpiness of Texas highways for the Texas Transportation Institute, and in that capacity I believe I have been down more roads than anyone I have known, possibly apart from a fellow writer and friend who is a retired Border Patrol Agent. Since those days, I’ve been traveling on my own, whether it’s booksignings, or to visit friends, or just to see the countryside. Sallie and I range from South Padre to Amarillo, and from Texarkana to El Paso. We travel. We travel a lot. And most of our travel is here in Texas.

I have met upwards of probably a hundred thousand people at one time or another, and I’m not sure that I have a single enemy among them. All by way of saying, I know Texas, and I know Texans. But I also don’t think I’ll ever stop learning more, or meeting more people, or making more friends. Texas is simply that big, and life is too good here.

So, for me to write about anything other than Texas would mean that I would have to write…science fiction. Now don’t laugh. Science fiction is about the only thing I can write when I’m not writing about Texas. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Texas writer. You have to write about Texas. I’m not sure I can help it. But it gets worse than that. This affliction is down in the bone, where no treatment can reach. What I mean by worse, is that I live in Austin, so guess what I have to write about? Okay, that one was too easy. Austin has grown on me. It has grown into me. I could no more divest myself of Austin than I could divest or divorce myself from Texas. I love it here, and I’ve only lived in Austin for the past thirteen years.

So, when I’m writing, and I need a character, he or she is going to have a Texas name. He or she is going to have a Texas background. And you know what? That character is going to talk Texan. They’re going to think Texan, and they’re going to have a history that is nothing but Texas.

From time to time Sallie and I will discuss moving somewhere else. We really do. I have never, however, believed it would work. It would be sort of like breaking up with someone you’ve been with and gone through life with, and this pea-picking heart of mine can’t hardly take any more heartache. So, cry me a river, but I ain’t leavin’.

About my friend, Dan—I think I understand him better, now. It’s quite likely he and I saw the same things when we were little fellows. Hell, it’s likely we were born in the same hospital, albeit years apart, and if not the same room, then likely just down the hall. There aren’t many rooms or halls in that little hospital. Yeah, I think I understand him. And I think I know why he’s here in Austin. Dan plays the piano, professionally. He’s incomparable at it. I think he came to the right place.

There’s one other thing, before I close, and suppose it’s this last bit that tells the tale. There’s a level of responsibility I didn’t expect that settled upon me the moment my first publication rolled off the line and started appearing in bookstores. It was as if all of my ancestors, going back to San Jacinto, were standing there in two lines in that bookstore as I walked in to my first booksigning. Like wraiths, all presence and no substance, they stood, taciturn but faintly smiling, as if to say, “Do us proud, son. Make us mean something again. Don’t let them forget us.”

Well, daddy, and my grandaddys, and all of you old southern coots with your women on your arms and your boots dusty from the trail, I hope I have. And if I haven’t, well, I promise you, I’m working on it.


May is Texas Mystery Writers Month. Keep an eye on our blog for guest posts from our favorite Texas writers, all month long. You can find George Wier’s books on our shelves, most of ’em signed. Just give us a call here at BookPeople and we’ll set one aside.

MysteryPeople Q&A with David C. Taylor, Author of NIGHT LIFE


David C Taylor has been writing for film, TV, and theater since the seventies. He has written for classic shows like The Rockford Files and scripted several movies including the fun Tom Selleck caper flick, Lassiter (a personal favorite) and the rock comedy Get Crazy. His debut novel, Night Life, is a look into New York City of the Fifties. One almost hears the theme from the Burt Lancaster film Sweet Smell Of Success as we follow Michael Cassidy, a cop with a unique background, whose case puts him in the middle of the red scare and up against real life villain Roy Cohn. It is a book rich in story and character that never loses itself in the period and atmosphere it evokes. I recently talked talked to Mr. Taylor about his book and the period it tackled.


MysteryPeople: Michael Cassidy is an intriguing character who can move in many directions and has an interesting history. How did he come about?

David C. Taylor: It is difficult to know exactly how a character is born. If you have been watching people’s behavior and storing up incident for as long as I have, I think there are characters alive inside you, and when you begin to tap them, they grow naturally as you demand more and more of them. I did grow up with a father who worked in the New York theater world, so that was available to me. And I did not want to write a run of the mill character whose background would lead naturally to the police department. I wanted him to be a bit of an outsider in all the worlds he passes through.

MP: What drew you to Fifties New York as a setting?

DCT: New York in the Fifties was the New York I grew up in. It was a city that did not really change until the late Sixties, by which time I was in my twenties, and youth is the time in our lives when many memories become indelible. I wanted to write about that city, which I loved, without limiting the story by making it about a boy.

MP: You also use the world of theater, that you have experience with. What did you want to get across about the people in that life?

DCT: The Fifties was a glorious era for those who lived in the mainstream of American life, but not such a glorious era for those who were marginalized by color, or sexuality, or politics. Theater people, then and now, are tolerant of those on the margins, those who do not swim in the main stream, and that was the world Cassidy grew up in, the world that shaped him.

MP:The book has several real life characters like Roy Cohn and mobster Frank Costello. How do you approach historical characters in historical fiction?

DCT: I always thought that Roy Cohn was one of the great villains of America’s 20th Century. He was one of those people whose public stance was that he was trying to protect America from its enemies. He used to say that “God Bless America” was is favorite song, but he spent most of his life and energy trying to hijack the system for his own benefit. I have read a great deal about him, and I tried be true to who he was. Frank Costello is there in part because I wanted Tom Cassidy to have a criminal enterprise in his background, which is often part of the American story, and I wanted Cassidy to have access to that part of New York life that works in the shadows. I have, of course, created relationships between Costello and the Cassidy family that are fiction. The use of real life characters from the past allows the writer to examine the tendency of power to corrupt without the partisan passions that writing about contemporary characters ignites. And, you cannot libel a dead man.

MP:You’ve mainly wrote for film, television, and stage. What did you you enjoy the most about writing a novel?

DCT: Film, TV, and stage are collaborative media. The script is a blueprint to which others add insight in the hopes, sometimes realized, of improving the work. The theater belongs more to the writer than movies or TV, but novels allow the writer the luxury of succeeding or failing on his own merits. You write what you want, and though there is an editorial process that can have an influence on the finished product, the writer has the last word, which, after years of writing for movies and TV, I find very satisfying.

MP: After researching and writing about the McCarthy era, do you see it a the kind of history that can repeat itself?

DCT: It does repeat itself, and in some ways is repeating itself now. If the population can be scared enough, it tends to willingly give up some of its guaranteed liberties in hopes that the government will use its expanded power to protect its citizens. This was true when McCarthy was finding a Communist under every bed, and seems to be rising again when we are told that there is a terrorist around every corner. We are now facing intrusive surveillance by agencies like the NSA, and the growing militarization of our police forces.


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