- Interview by MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery
Wallace Stroby’s The Devil’s Share is one of my favorite books of 2015, with a reappearance of one of my favorite characters, heistwoman Crissa Stone. In this book, Crissa is hired for an inside job to steal Iraqi art meant for repatriation. Stone is hired by the art’s new, illicit owner, who does not wish to part ways with the artifacts. Hicks, the art collector’s security man, works with Crissa as both ally and spy, creating a new relationship that could be fruitful or deadly. We got in touch with Wallace to talk about the book and his heroine.
MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to Iraqi art as the MacGuffin?
Wallace Stroby: I liked the idea of a big cultural crime – stealing ancient artifacts from their place of origin – being facilitated by a smaller, intimate crime, like hijacking a truck on a desert highway. And certainly there was theft on an enormous scale of priceless artifacts immediately following the invasion of Iraq. In the novel, a corrupt art dealer argues that the stolen artifacts are better off with him in the U.S., then at the mercy of whatever regime is in power in their homeland. And oddly, ISIS has since proved him right, by aggressively destroying artifacts and bulldozing archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, because it considers them anti-Muslim idolatry. A lot of these items go back to the beginnings of civilization, around 3,000 B.C., and ISIS has released videos of their soldiers cheerfully destroying them with sledgehammers and power tools. All this happened long after the book was written though.
MPS: This was the novel where it appeared Crissa had changed a bit without completely putting my finger on it. At what place do you see Crissa in her life?
WS: I think over the course of the books, what’s been happening – though I don’t think I knew it at the time – is that she’s gradually been surrendering her illusions about where her life’s going. In Cold Shot to the Heart, the first book, she’s actively trying to build a “normal” life for herself – buying a house, trying to get her lover/mentor out of prison, attempting to reunite with the daughter she gave up. At the end of that book, most of her hopes go up in smoke – literally. In Kings of Midnight, she comes to accept the fact that her lover, Wayne, is likely *never* going to get out of prison, and that she’s basically on her own. She’s harder and colder in the third one, Shoot The Woman First, but her relationship with the young daughter of a slain partner thaws her a bit. In The Devil’s Share, she’s in the driver’s seat, picking the team, planning the heist, etc. In one sense, she’s become Wayne.
MPS: You have a great character in Hicks, and his relationship with Crissa is what makes the book for me. What did you want to explore with it?
WS: I wanted to finally give Crissa – who’s been pretty isolated and lonely in the previous books – a relationship with someone who was her equal. Hicks is tough and resourceful, and has her back when she needs it, but he’s also got a personal agenda. With the name, I guess I was thinking of both Ray Hicks from Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers – a book I admire – and Dwayne Hicks (played by Michael Biehn), the Marine corporal in James Cameron’s Alien, who teams up with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
MPS: What advice would you give to someone tackling a heist novel?
WS: That it’s not about the heist, it’s about the people carrying it out. The heist can be an interesting diversion, like watching well-made machinery in motion, but personally I’m a lot more interested in what happens before and after the heist, and the ramifications on the characters of what they’ve done.
MPS: What makes Crissa Stone a character worth coming back to?
WS: With the first three Crissa books, I had an experience I never had before. By the time I finished each book, I already had an idea for the next. That didn’t happen with the three books I wrote prior to the series. Part of it is the character – she needs money, so she’s almost always in the process of planning a heist, executing it or dealing with the aftermath, which creates a lot of story possibilities. But at the end of The Devil’s Share, I didn’t have that next idea yet. It felt like she and I both needed a break, especially after what I’d put her through. So the next book will be a standalone, and in themeantime I’ve sent her on an extended vacation. But she’ll be back.
You can find copies of Stroby’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.