Wallace Stroby’s Cold Shot To The Heart was on my top ten list last year. His follow up with heist woman Crissa Stone, Kings of Midnight, involves money from the infamous Lufthansa robbery, the mob, and a questionable partner in crime in a book that is getting as much acclaim as Cold Shot. Wallace recently answered a few questions about his latest for MysteryPeople.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What made you return to Crissa again?
WALLACE STROBY: Oddly, once I started writing about her – I say oddly, as she’s a professional criminal and a woman, and I’m neither – I had her voice pretty clear in my head almost immediately, and that almost never happens. By the time I got to the end of COLD SHOT, I had all kinds of ideas about things she could do going forward, and that was exciting.
MP: What drew you to using the historical Lufthansa Heist as a major part of the story?
WS: If you’re writing about high-level armed robbery in the U.S., Lufthansa is certainly the high-water mark. Six guys walked into the Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK and – without firing a shot – walked out with between $5-$10 million in untraceable cash (no one ever knew for sure how much). At the time, it was the largest cash robbery ever on American soil, and very little of the money – only about $30,000 – was ever recovered. However, within a few months afterward, almost all the principals had been murdered, because the bosses found it was cheaper and easier to kill them than pay them their share.
MP: This is your second heist novel, what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?
WS: It’s less the heists themselves, which – as you pointed out in your review of KINGS – tend to be low-tech and messy, as it is the pressures they put on the disparate participants, and the sometimes brutal fallout that follows (see above). Also, with Crissa, she’s a woman in a man’s world, and has to deal with that as well, by being twice as tough, twice as smart and twice as resourceful as the men around her, just to get by.
MP: Your wiseguy characters and their dialogue have that working-class authenticity that reminds me of George V. Higgins. What do you want to get across about these guys?
WS: I grew up in a working-class Italian neighborhood in New Jersey, in a town which was sort of a vacation spot for New York mobsters, so I was familiar with that world early on, in an oblique way. Years later, I met some of those people – though not on any extended basis – and it always occurred to me they were basically the same as the working-class Italians I’d known growing up, except they’d never actually worked a day in their lives.
I also wanted to get away from the idea of high-tech heists executed by brilliant thieves, the kind you often see depicted in movies and books. Let’s face it, if someone was *that* brilliant, they’d be doing something else with their lives.
In one of the supplementary features on the DVD of Michael Mann’s HEAT, Eddie Bunker – himself a career armed robber, as well as a novelist – points out that the kind of crew depicted in that film is rare, if not totally fanciful. Because, he says, if you had $30,000-$60,000 to spend prepping a job in the first place, why would you need to steal?
MP: All of your characters have a lived-in feel about them. How do you approach writing them without just giving them quirks?
WS: Years ago, I interviewed Stephen King about his writing process and asked him basically the same question (the interview is up on my site at http://www.wallacestroby.com/writersonwriting_king.html). I’ll always remember his answer, which was deepen what you know about the characters – even if you don’t use it all in the book – and see through their eyes more. What do they want? What do they need? What are they scared of?
MP: When you were talking about Cold Shot To The Heart, you said you were looking forward to writing a straight-up crime novel. Is there another genre or sub-genre you’re looking forward to tackling?
WS: I’ve often toyed with the idea of writing a WWII novel, and did a little research in that area, but it’s always felt like there was just too much immersion required, and too many opportunities to get things wrong. I would like to get back at some point to a novel with a strong moral center, and at least one clear-cut good guy (or girl). Writing about Crissa’s world can take you to some pretty dark places.
If you have your own questions for Wallace, he’ll be calling into our History Of Mystery Class’s discussion of Richard Stark and his book The Outfit at 6PM, as he talks about Stark’s influence on his work. Also join us at 4PM for a viewing of the film version starring Robert Duvall.