MysteryPeople Q&A with Rick Ollerman

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Rick Ollerman will be joining us for our Noir At The Bar tonight at Threadgill’s South. Rick has a voice that has one foot in the modern and one in paperback classic. His latest, Mad Dog Barked, introduces us to PI Scott Porter who becomes the caretaker of a first edition of Murder In The Rue Morgue that draws all kind of disaster. We caught up with Rick to talk about the book and his writing.

MysteryPeople Scott: Mad Dog Barked is such a distinctive title. Did it come before or after finishing the book?

Rick Ollerman: It’s actually part of a line from a Jack Kerouac poem. I’d just started writing Mad Dog Barked and I knew the sort of character Scott Porter was going to be. When I read that poem, that particular line stood out, not just for being such an interesting phrase but for all the sort of meanings and complexities that reflected what I wanted to do with Porter. Was Porter a “mad dog” making noise? Was he driven to behave in a certain way? The title actually helped me shape the character and in the past, my titles have always been determined after the books had been written. This was more fun.

MPS: The premise of everything starting with the Poe book is interesting. How did that come about?

RO: I like bibliomysteries and I had originally toyed with the book as having a mysterious origin but the cryptic letter found inside even more so. But as I worked out the story, I wasn’t sure I could keep up the level of suspense that I like based just on that premise. So early on, when people Porter trusted started doing the wrong things, as did his client, I realized there was a lot of betrayal going on. I recognized that as a theme of the book, and I hope that a lot of people will pick up on the fact that much of the suspicion and tension in the book come from people letting other people down, or placing their own selfish interests over what they were expected to do. Porter could be a lot of things – he certainly marches to his own drummer – but he could always be counted on, if not exactly by orthodox means (which he carefully chooses to keep to himself). But when the people around him, even the ones he cares most for, turn out to be less than reliable, at least according to his standards, it crushes him in ways that his case never could.

MPS: Most fictional PI either work alone or have one sidekick. What did Scott’s staff allow you to do as writer?

RO: Two things, I think. It allowed me to do something other than the ‘loner’ PI with an underpaid secretary (or no secretary) and just his name on the door in peeling paint. If a person is arrested, the entirety of the DA’s office is against them: their own investigators, the police, police labs, the FBI, etc. But what does the defendant have? I wanted to show that there is a role for private investigators that don’t just take tawdry pictures of cheating spouses or background checks for corporate entities. I wanted to show that, at least for people that could afford it, that a good private investigator with resources – and that means people, boots on the ground, as well as contacts in law enforcement (which he has by a sort of left-handed and roundabout way) is there only reasonable counter.

Scott’s staff gave me that. He has people that do the ‘routine’ stuff for him; they are good at it but he has no taste for that part of it. Mostly he leaves it to run by itself – which proves costly to him in the book – while he and a couple of others work the criminal or special cases that he finds so interesting, mostly because he can act on his own to get results. His methods are not always ethical or legal, which is why he keeps much of what he himself does hidden to his friends. But that bothers them more than it does him, which helps make him the complex character he is.

MPS: You have a unique voice, yet it seems to have its roots in 50s and 60s paperback crime fiction: Scott has a “been around the the block” attitude – and the story is tight. Do you have any influences?

RO: We all do, don’t we? Some may be conscious, others not. I don’t try to emulate anybody. I don’t ever want to write the same book twice, and so far I’ve only written standalones. I do read a lot of paperback original era (PBO) authors and a few years ago I edited and contributed to the reference book Paperback Confidential, which features 132 biographies, etc. of writers that bridged the pulp years to the heyday of the mass market paperback. I’m sure everything we read influences us as writers, but I don’t take any overtly and I don’t write in anyone else’s style or as an homage or a pastiche. But I do like Peter Rabe, Charles Williams, Bart Spicer, Lionel White, John D. MacDonald, and a seemingly endless list of ‘the old guys.’

I do like doing a bit more with the denouement of a book, the part that happens after the climax. Ed Gorman blurbed Truth Always Kills with the quote, ‘This one has the power to hurt you.’ That’s exactly what I was going for and I thought, he so gets me. But if the ending of that book makes you want to come after me with a sharp stick, the denouement for Mad Dog Barked, should, I hope, make you want to charge me with a two by four. Not that that’s appropriate behavior, but still.

MPS: You’ll be attending our September 20th Noir At The Bar reading at Threadgills. What should the audience expect?

RO: Hopefully a lively reading with a bit of humor. There’s a bit from my first novel, Turnabout, that I like to read because who can’t laugh when a drug mule has his first encounter with an auto-flush toilet at an international airport? Otherwise, I’ll try to read something suspenseful from Mad Dog Barked that doesn’t give too much away but will give a sense of the book and, hopefully, a desire to find out more about Scott Porter and the complex mess he’s found himself in.

You can find copies of Ollerman’s latest on our shelves and via, or for sale at Noir at the Bar at Threadgill’s South. Rick Ollerman will be joined by Brits Zoe Sharp and John Lawton, and fellow Americans Mike McCrary and Jesse Sublett. We’ll have copies of each author’s latest for sale and tons of giveaways – we guarantee, if you want a book to take home, you’ll have one by the end of the night! 

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