MysteryPeople’s Pick Of The Month, Crooked Numbers by Tim O’Mara, released today and is on our shelves.
It features teacher and ex-cop Ray Donne as he looks into the murder of a former student. This latest in the series delves into race and class issues in New York City. It’s suspenseful and poignant, with a hard boiled warmth that comes from our hero, his family and his friends.
We caught up with Tim to ask him some questions about Crooked Numbers.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What was the biggest difference from working on the second book in the series as opposed to the first one?
TIM O’MARA: I was much more confident with Crooked Numbers after going through the editing process with my agents and Matt Martz from St. Martin’s. I knew how to look more at the “big picture” and make sure I earned the reader’s suspense.
Crooked Numbers also took 1/20th of the time to finish than Sacrifice Fly. Deadlines and advances, man. Two great motivators.
I’m also getting to know Raymond more each time I sit down to write. I like him.
MP: Crooked Numbers has a more melancholy feel than Sacrifice Fly. Was that the intent?
TO: I did want Crooked Numbers to be a bit darker than Sacrifice Fly. I have personally lost students to the streets of Williamsburg; and I wanted to explore those feelings with Raymond.
I’ve often joked with cops that I make their job easier by helping to keep kids on the right path. Even with that, some can’t help but succumb to the lure of the streets and some–like Dougie in Crooked Numbers–get caught by surprise.
MP: Even though Ray has a lot of friends and a relationship with Allison Rogers, there is a lonesome quality to him. Where does that come from?
TO: Ray’s lonesomeness (is that a word?) comes from my own. I’ve always been the guy who’s “on,” and the one people expected to be “up” all the time. That’s exhausting and when the crowd–classmates, students, audience members–are gone, it can get kinda lonely. I’m becoming a lot more mindful of the feeling these days. I’m learning to be comfortable [in understanding] the difference between lonely and alone: alone is good. Lonely is more of a choice.
MP: There is a lot about the victim’s prep school and the class politics he was thrown into. Why did you want to investigate that world?
TO: Since I’ve moved from teaching in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I’ve had a real dose of reality in what our next mayor is calling “the two New Yorks.”
When I taught in the “Willy B”, those kids were truly disadvantaged: socially, academically and emotionally. They had real issues with their families–and [a lack of family support]. Some kids didn’t have their own beds, did not eat three times a day and couldn’t play outside after school because of the dangers of the neighborhood or family obligations.
I love teaching on the Upper West Side, [where I am now], but some of these folks need to see more of the city around them. A kid gets an 80 when his overachieving sibling gets a 95; something must be wrong. I’ve worked with a lot of parents on the UWS who know how to work the system. If that doesn’t work, they have the bucks to lay out for “special schools.” I’m constantly amazed what some of these folks consider a “problem.” I’d love to walk them through the projects around my old school in Williamsburg, and see what they still want to complain about.
MP: The main character’s relationship with Allison is engaging and real. What do they provide to one another other than information?
TO: Ray and Allison are both damaged goods. They’ve had both physical and emotional traumas, and they’ve used them to keep others at a distance. I think they met each other at the right time. They both used to be perfectionists and are now coming to terms with their own fallibility and foibles. When you learn to accept your own faults, it’s easier to accept those of the people you are close to, or want to be close to.
MP: What do you think drives Ray to go out of his way to do good for others?
TO: Even though Ray and his dad had a rough relationship, Ray knew his dad helped people as a lawyer (to the detriment of his own family). My own dad was like that. He worked way too many hours, but many of his students–yes, I went into the same business as my father–admired him and many kept in touch years after graduating.
Ray, like me, tries to look out for those who need some looking out for. So many of the troubled boys I’ve worked with over the past 26 years in New York City have not had a dad at home. Ray and I both realize that having a flawed dad around the house is usually better than not having one at all. I think Ray’s dad was the same way and taught Ray to give back however he could.
Copies of Crooked Numbers are available on the shelves here at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com.