- Post and Interview by MysteryPeople Scott
Brad Parks is doing something I don’t see as often as I’d like: His Carter Ross book series is getting better and better. Too often authors of a book series start out strong and then start coasting or becoming a caricature of their former selves.
But Parks, with his newest book The Fraud, takes his series about Carter Ross, a journalist at a Newark, NJ newspaper, on a deeper and wilder ride than any of his previous novels. I feel a kinship with Brad since we both worked as newspaper reporters but in different regions so I have interviewed him for most of his books (read an interview with Parks about his second-to-latest novel).
Most of the books in Parks’ series involve Carter Ross encountering various barriers and obstacles while working as a journalist. To lighten things up, Carter’s lovelife is sometimes as funny as Stephanie Plum’s in Janet Evanovich’s series.
“Newspaper folks are, on average, smart as hell, irreverent, irascible and hysterical—my kind of people.”
In The Fraud, Ross investigates suspicious carjackings while his girlfriend (also his editor) is about to deliver their first baby. With each phone call he receives he, as well as the reader, wonders if this will be THE CALL. A complicated labor and delivery add suspense throughout the novel. At first I shrugged and said, really, Brad? Carjacking? That’s so yesterday. Until he explained that at least one recent series of carjackings occurred at a green light.
Having Ross fretting over impending fatherhood while also engaging in his usual shenanigans makes for Park’s best book yet.
Parks entertained us with two particularly amusing passages from The Fraud at our most recent Noir at the Bar earlier this month, and Brad was also kind enough to answer some questions about his latest via email.
MysteryPeople Scott: How did you come up with this story, particularly the carjacking ring?
Brad Parks: Sadly, this was inspired by real events. In 2013, ten days before Christmas, a young lawyer named Dustin Friedland was shot and killed at an upscale mall in New Jersey during a botched carjacking. It made national news, and the reward for the capture of his killers swelled to $41,000. The next day in Newark—the same county as the upscale mall, just at the wrong end of it—a young man named Naeem Williams was shot and killed in the street. Very few people noticed, and the reward for the capture of his killers was $10,000. We all know that the whole All Men (Ahem, People) Are Created Equal thing hasn’t exactly play out as planned in this country. But to see such a stark difference in the two numbers made me want to write about the two very different sides of crime: the high profile kind that happens to white people in wealthy areas and the ignored kind that happens to black people in poor areas.
MPS: Does such a thing as the Newark cruise exist and, if so, how does it work?
BP: Ah, yes. The Newark cruise. It’s a small bit of civil disobedience practiced late at night in Newark and, I suspect, other down-on-their-luck cities. Basically, stopping at a light signifies to a certain subset of the citizenry that you are either looking to buy drugs, or you are looking to be robbed. Or both. The cruise is performed by approaching red lights slowly and, once you see no one is coming, continuing through the intersection. No stopping involved.
MPS: Was it important to you, as a former journalist to have the newspaper in this series reflect industry changes, namely the layoffs?
BP: Look, I write fiction for a living, but even I couldn’t pull off having Carter Ross writing for a daily newspaper that is financially sound. The reality of the industry right now is quite dire, and Carter’s world has to show that if it is to be believable.
MPS: Do you stay in touch with the “real” Newark newspaper? Do you remain friends with those at that publication? What I’m getting at is do they have any criticisms of how you portray it?
BP: If they do, I haven’t heard about it. And, yes, I do keep in touch with a lot of them. I spent more than a decade with them enjoined in the daily miracle that is putting out a newspaper. There’s a bond there that doesn’t go away. Plus, I like them. Newspaper folks are, on average, smart as hell, irreverent, irascible and hysterical—my kind of people.
” Look, I write fiction for a living, but even I couldn’t pull off having Carter Ross writing for a daily newspaper that is financially sound. The reality of the industry right now is quite dire, and Carter’s world has to show that if it is to be believable.”
MPS: I see that you now have little kids. Did that play a role in your protagonist, Carter Ross, being about to have his first child born?
BP: If you wanted to draw that conclusion, I wouldn’t stop you. Once upon a time, I perhaps thought Carter would stay the same throughout all the books, and that he would remain the happy, go-lucky guy he was at the start of the series, living a basically consequence-free existence. It just didn’t work out that way—for him, or for me. His relationships have deepened. He’s become more thoughtful, more mature. He’s still a bit of a wise-ass, of course. But now that he’s about to become a dad, his buy-in into this thing called life has doubled down. That the same thing seems to have happened to the author is probably not a coincidence.
MPS: When do you miss being a journalist and when do you not? For example I’d love to cover crazy Donald Trump right now.
BP: I miss it most when something big has happened—something that shakes the way we all think about ourselves or the country we live in—and I have no immediate outlet to process it the way I do best: by writing about it. The horrible tragedy in Charleston was an example of that. I actually went on Facebook that night and uncorked a seven-paragraph rant about race in America, just to get it off my chest. But even when you get 200 likes and 50 shares, that’s just not the same as having 400,000 copies of what you’ve written come roaring off the presses. Maybe I’m just a whore for attention, but I miss being a part of the larger conversation. (And speaking of attention whores: Yes, The Donald is the gift to reporters that keeps on giving, isn’t he?)
MPS: Is it true – as you say in the book – that every good New Jersey resident knows four different ways to reach a location?
BP: Sorry. I misstated that. It’s more like six.
MPS: Can you say more about what you talked about on page 135 regarding your assertion that “not all [internet] clicks are created equal.”
BP: Well, since you just slid the soapbox under my feet… The newspaper world in which I was raised understood that some news is intrinsically more important—and, furthermore, understood that it had a responsibility to its readership that went beyond the mere entertainment value of its content. That is lost in the race-to-the-bottom that is counting clicks. Look, the latest celebrity gossip will click a thousand times better than the average city council meeting. But if you view the newspaper and/or its website as a public trust with a role to serve in a fully functioning democracy, then you can’t base all your decisions on the almighty click. Besides—and this is the part that really drives me nuts—no one seems to know how to monetize clicks anyway. So why drive yourself to irrelevancy chasing something that doesn’t even pay?
The best hope for newspapers might be to abandon the for-profit business model, which is hopelessly broken anyway, and go non-profit, like public radio. The revenue would come from a mix of sponsors (aka advertisers), foundations and private donors. That way, the core mission of a free and vibrant press—to serve as a watch dog, to be a voice for the voiceless, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, etc.—could return to its rightful place at the center of the decision making about what is covered (the city council meeting) and what is best left to other media outlets (the celebrity divorce).
MPS: What are you working on next?
BP: A standalone that I’m very excited about. And that’s all I’ll say at the moment. See? That’s what we call building suspense…
You can find copies of Brad Park’s latest, The Fraud, on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. For those who wish to start the series from the beginning, you can find copies the first Carter Ross mystery, Faces of the Gone, on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.