The Inconsistencies of the Human Heart: MysteryPeople Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If you follow MysteryPeople to any degree, you know that I’m a die hard fan of Reed Farrel Coleman. Just check my Top Ten List of 2016. His latest, What You Break, the follow up to the Edgar nominated Where It Hurts, continues with wounded ex-Suffolk cop Gus Murphy as he tries to help his co-worker and friend Slava take care of some men out to kill him. Murphy also takes a job for a shady energy czar, Micah Spears, to look into the murder of his adopted granddaughter. Both cases deal with how people deal with the darkest parts of their lives. It’s a book I can’t wait to discuss with Reed when he comes to BookPeople on February 10th with Robert Knott. Consider these six questions below a warm up.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did you want to challenge Gus in What You Break?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Without giving too much away, I have always been fascinated by the inconsistencies of the human heart. For instance, early in my career I did book signings with a retired NYPD detective who was later convicted of being a mob hit man. He and his partner killed at least seven people, one of them the wrong man, but I knew him as a nice, gregarious guy. Even after I found out that he was a coldblooded murderer, I could not force that other view of him out of my head. In What You Break, Gus is confronted with two men who have done some heinous things. His challenge is what should he do with the knowledge he gains and how should he feel about these men.

MPS: Much of the plot deals with Slava. What appealed to you about bringing more focus to the character?

RFC: I’ve written several series and I can tell you from experience that having one protagonist “on screen” and at the center of every scene is wearing. I find that readers really enjoy it when an author forces a secondary character up front and shines a light on him or her. Plus, Slava is such a great character. Readers love him. I love him. And there’s the fact that Gus Murphy is a reactive protagonist not necessarily a proactive one. So I give him something and someone powerful to react to. In the first book, Where It Hurts, that was TJ Delcamino. In this book, it’s Slava and Spears.

MPS: You told me after Where It Hurts came out, there was great fan reaction to Slava. What do you think his appeal is?

RFC: He is so wounded that he appeals to the part of us that wants to heal others. He is on the other hand, amazingly competent and even brutal. He is a walking contradiction and that appeals to readers. It appeals to me. That and the fact that he has a deep secret. I also think people love his broken English. I enjoy writing his dialogue very much.

MPS: The relationship Gus has with Magdelena is engaging, becoming more fragile as it grows deeper. At this point, what do you think she provides for Gus?

RFC: Their relationship is a vehicle by which the reader can measure Gus’s evolution and reinvention. As Gus says, there are three of him: Gus before his son died, Gus after his son died, and who Gus is becoming. One way to observe this is to see how he relates to others, particularly the women he loves. And frankly, I’m a little bit in love with Magdalena myself.

MPS: I noticed you adopted the short chapters for this book that you do for the Jesse Stone series. What prompted the change?

RFC: I hadn’t noticed when I was actually writing the book. And the chapters are still not as short as they are in the Jesse Stone books. But short chapters create momentum and help with pacing. I’ve always said that I am still learning and adapting as a writer. I guess I owe Robert B. Parker a debt of gratitude for teaching me a lesson through writing his books.

MPS: What do you think Gus and Jesse Share as series heroes?

RFC: They are both reactive men. They are far more alike than either would be with Moe Prager. But I think that the only one of the three I would describe as heroic is Jesse. In fact, I think Gus is evolving in the opposite direction. But I guess we’ll just see about that.

You can find copies of What You Break on our shelves and via bookpeople.comReed Farrel Coleman comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest, What You Break, on Friday, February 10th, at 7 PM. He’ll be joined by actor, writer and producer Robert Knott, here with his latest continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Hitch and Cole series, Revelation

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