“Did you hear about Milton Smith getting his head blown off?” My mother was calling me from West Texas. I was in Austin.
“Wha…no…what?” I stammered.
“You remember Milton,” she wrongly assumed “He has that Texaco station where they take care of my car. He and 4 or 5 big shots play cards down there every Saturday. Well, Sunday morning they were found shot to death. And everyone of them was holding a pistol.”
From that phone call, so many years ago, my novel Slap Noir was conceived. The painful gestation period covered decades. For years I would forget about that shootout. But it would always sneak back into my consciousness when least expected…like in the shower when I ran out of hot water, or while sitting in traffic on an L.A. freeway for no good reason. All I knew was that nobody ever figured out exactly what happened. Or if they did, they weren’t telling.
Then five years ago, I sat down to write about my Vietnam experience. Or maybe about my days pitching story ideas and dealing with Hollywood. Somehow the poker shootout took over. It was the story I had to write.
I wanted to focus on how such a tragedy could impact the people of a small community. How it was dealt with. And hopefully come up with a satisfactory explanation, not though an examination of the facts, but through the freedom of my imagination.
The story had to be dark. A noir mystery. I love noir, from Chandler to Thompson to Phillip Kerr. Lately I have been reading a lot of Scandinavian noir. For a place with all that bright snow, they sure can celebrate the dark.
The problem? I prefer stories with some humor. Existence is indeed dark and hopeless if we cannot laugh at its absurdities. The Scandinavians are not all that funny. Neither are Kerr’s murder mysteries set in Nazi Germany.
No worries. I decided humor could be found in abundance in the chaos surrounding the investigation of my poker shootout. Just allow the action to come from the characters. They did not disappoint me. Now it is up to you, noble reader, to decide if I found the proper balance between mystery and humor.