MysteryPeople Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman

Our January Pick Of The Month, Where It Hurts, is another exquisite detective novel from Reed Farrel Coleman, delivering a detective as compelling as his plot with Coleman’s latest creation, Gus Murphy. Gus is a former cop hanging by a thread after the death of his son. When the son of a criminal Gus had previously arrested is murdered, the situation sucks Murphy back into the maelstrom of a cop’s life and causes him to reevaluate his life. Reed was kind enough to talk about characters new and old, and writing in general. He joins us Saturday, January 30th, at 5 PM to speak and sign his lates.t 

MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to create a character like Gus Murphy for a series?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Gus is one of those rare characters that appeared in my head at the same moment as the plot and setting. I don’t think I could separate Gus from the narrative from the setting. That is always an encouraging sign for me as a writer. When I feel the protagonist is of the place and of the story, it gives me a big advantage when setting out on a new project. I am always suspect of novels when I don’t feel the protagonist is of the setting. Sure, it’s interesting to put your protagonist in an unfamiliar setting to see how he or she reacts, but I never want to feel like you could plug protagonist A into setting X, Y or Z and have it work together. The rare exception, a character like Reacher, sort of brings his own personal setting along with him.

MPS: Gus mentions in one passage he knows nothing about wine and at another point he mentions how he could have twisted his ankle. Was this a way to tell your readers not to expect a Moe clone?

RFC: Gus is definitely not a Moe clone. And yes, there are several points in the novel where a Moe reader will pick up that they are different men. As an adult, Moe always had a jaundiced, and world weary view of things. He was Jewish, always questioning, always skeptical of God, authority, people’s motivations. Moe accepts the chaos of the universe. Some of these realizations come to Gus out of tragedy. He is uncomfortable with them, growing into them. He is an evolving character, one who knows he is no longer who he was and has little concept of who he is becoming. Although Moe changes over the course of the nine Prager books, he is essentially who he always was. Gus is a character who will literally be evolving as we watch.

” I’ve come to believe that a genre writer’s main job is to entertain. That if you fail to entertain, the reader won’t see anything else you may be trying to do in your work. After they are entertained, I want them to think. I want them to question. I want them to look at their own world differently than they did before they read the novel.”

MPS: Other than using a place you know, what made you use Suffolk County as a setting?

RFC: Putnam loved the idea of the setting. When you say Long Island to most people outside of the area, they think, Gatsby, the Hamptons, the Gold Coast. They think beaches, yacht clubs, golf courses, wine country. Even most New Yorkers have that idea of the island. But I’ve lived on LI for thirty-three years now, twenty-seven in Suffolk County. And let me tell you, the Long Island I live in is a million miles away from the Hamptons, though only about forty minutes by car. The Long Island I know is full of people with the same struggles as the people in Peoria or Philadelphia or Birmingham. But the setting for those struggles is mostly unknown to people who don’t live on the island or people who drive through the island to get to the Hamptons. There are lots of inglorious place here. Places where people have sometimes to choose between paying for home heating oil or for food in the winter. There are very poor rundown areas. Indian reservations. These right next to wealthy areas. I loved writing about these places and I hope readers will enjoy seeing the beauty and the blemishes here.

MPS: While many series detectives are fully formed, yours are always searching for who they are. Besides being a great set-up for an arc, what draws you to these kinds of heroes?

RFC: Well, Gus is both fully formed and still forming. That’s what I love about him. He is different in the second book in the series, What You Break, than in Where It Hurts. He is still moldable, evolving, changing. And what I love is that we know, he knows, who he used to be and wonders what’s happening to that guy, that Gus. As to the general attraction to characters like Moe and Gus … it’s their flaws, their blind spots, their weaknesses and their struggles with these things that I love and readers love. I have never been a fan of perfection. Perfection is boring. But give me trouble, struggles, and conflict …

“As to the general attraction to characters like Moe and Gus … it’s their flaws, their blind spots, their weaknesses and their struggles with these things that I love and readers love. I have never been a fan of perfection. Perfection is boring. But give me trouble, struggles, and conflict …”

MPS:  You also have a new Gulliver book out. What can you tell us about that?

RFC: This, I fear, is my final Gulliver Dowd novella. It’s called Love and Fear and involves Gullie being hired by the body guard of NY’s most powerful Mafia Don in order to find the Don’s missing daughter. Of course, Dowd takes the case because the Don holds the secret to solving the execution style murder of Gulliver’s sister Keisha. But very little is as it seems on the surface. I think it makes a fitting coda for the series.

MPS: What do you hope a reader takes away from any of your books?

RFC: I’ve come to believe that a genre writer’s main job is to entertain. That if you fail to entertain, the reader won’t see anything else you may be trying to do in your work. After they are entertained, I want them to think. I want them to question. I want them to look at their own world differently than they did before they read the novel.

Reed Farrel Coleman joins us at BookPeople Saturday, January 30th, at 5 PM, to speak and sign his latest novel, Where It HurtsYou can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. To join the signing line, you must purchase a copy of either Where It Hurts or Coleman’s latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s legacy, Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins

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