- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Author and actor Robert Knott has just released Blackjack, his latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s novels featuring Territorial Marshals Hitch and Cole. The book is a western whodunit – a Denver lawman’s wife has been murdered, and the chief suspect is Boston Bill Black, a gunman and gambler opening up a new gambling hall in Apaloosa.
Throw in a bounty hunter with ties to Cole’s past and a new love interest for Hitch and you have a novel that continues the fun you expect out of the series. Robert Knott will be speaking and signing his latest here at BookPeople on Friday, February 5th, beginning at 7 PM. He was kind enough to take some early questions about the novel and writing in the west.
MysteryPeople Scott: Blackjack has a different flavor than most of the Hitch and Cole novels. What did you want to accomplish with it?
Robert Knott: Well, hum, I did not set out to bring about a different flavor but I suppose this book is – to some degree – more human, more sensitive? There is also some “whodunit” happening with Blackjack. I also feel – as I move through this journey of life with Hitch and Cole that they need to learn, grow and change. I know, I know, I know, it is one thing to make sure your serial protagonist does what is expected but then there is also – for me – a need for an evolution to go with what is expected. Evolution of character interests me. Basically relationships and characters need to change otherwise, like in life, without change we become stagnant, stale. In regard to accomplishment – and I can say, this is by design – I like the idea of not setting up an antagonist that we know in the end is going to get what is coming to him. I like that flavor, don’t get me wrong but I also like not knowing, and that is what is happening here with Blackjack. Another character element I always think about – and that is: characters are not good or bad but rather they are simply victims of circumstances.
MPS: You introduce a new character into their world with the bounty hunter Valentine Pell. How did you come up with him?
RK: Well I liked the idea of someone from Virgil’s past revealing elements of Virgil’s character that takes us by surprise. Pell challenges Virgil in ways we have not seen Virgil challenged before, and this gives us a deeper understanding of Virgil. That was my intention anyway.
MPS: How did it feel writing a character like Pell who is more verbose than Hitch and Cole?
RK: Well he’s a great counterpart to the men of few words. He is ever bit their manly equal but he’s just more flamboyant, not as reserved.
MPS: I think you also gave a Hitch his first love interest who isn’t a prostitute. How did that decision come about?
RK: Well women had their place in this time period. They of course were not allowed to vote but I am always drawn to women who have zero regard for what the time and place expect or dictate. I think of Allie in the say way. She might have her faults but she is her own woman and I like that. I enjoy writing women. I had strong, outspoken women inmy family and I have always had an affinity for complicated and nuanced females no matter their profession – bookkeeper or prostitute. Also, Hitch is a smart guy and smart women are attracted to him and visa-versa.
MPS: I know you do a lot or research for this series. Was there anything you had to study in particular for this one?
RK: The American West changed every year from the first moves of Manifest Destiny to the final State to join the Union and it has been my intention with all these books for us to have a sense of those changing times – just as we live in changing times today. Business and finance and commerce have – to varying degrees – always had a part in the books I’ve written. In Blackjack there is a sense of franchise, and how that plays a role in our country, and also how though there are towns and communities that are far away from each other there is a residual magnetism that grows daily, bonding lives together across the country and with each year, Denver gets closer to Dallas. I think that makes sense:)
MPS: What advice would you give to writer tackling a period western?
RK: Get out and live. I was fortunate growing up in Oklahoma and working in the oilfields as a young man. I had the opportunity to understand firsthand the hard work behind the backbone of this country and the characters that make up the heartland. So I suppose living and working among salt of the earth people, knowing how to toil, and how to sweat is an elemental key to understanding strife and courage and character. There are other ways to skin the cat for sure, but for me there is a lot to be learned from digging a ditch. So living outside of books and computers and four walls there is a world full of “hands on” and “can do” that will give you resources that will – without question – boil up from within.
You can find copies of Robert B. Parker’s Blackjack on our shelves starting Tuesday, February 2nd, and via bookpeople.com. Robert Knott joins us at BookPeople this Friday, February 5th, at 7 PM, to speak and sign his latest. Can’t make it to the event? Pre-order a signed copy!