Matt Coyle’s Wrong Light was our December Pick Of The Month. It’s the fifth in the series featuring San Diego private detective Rick Cahill. Rick is hired to protect Naomi Hendrix, a radio personality being stalked. The problem is her tormentor could be tied to some secrets she is keeping and the job puts Rick in a plot involving the Irish gypsy con artists known as the travelers, the Russian mob, and Cahill’s own troubled past. Matt will be joining Patricia Smiley and Puja Guha on January 9th at 7pm at BookPeople. He was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.
MysteryPeople Scott: You had Rick go through a major character arc in the previous novels. Now that he’s come to terms with certain things from the past, what do you want to do with him now?
Matt Coyle: In some ways, Rick is now starting with a clean slate. He’s cast away one heavy anchor from his life that helped form who he is even though he learns the facts were not what he thought they were. Still, he’s more free to be the man he wants to be, but can never escape the actions he’s taken throughout his life and their repercussions. In Wrong Light, Rick is forced to confront who he has become and who he wants to be.
MPS: Naomi Hendrix is a great take on the mystery woman in P.I. fiction. How did you go about constructing her?
MC: Thanks. When I decided to write about a talk radio host being stalked, I thought back to radio personalities of the past before the airwaves became so politicized and confrontational. There used to be nighttime shows where people called in with problems and hoped for sage, soothing advice. Naomi is from that era, but I put her in today. I wanted her to be charismatic and mysterious. Once I figured out her background, which is a mystery for much of the book, she came to life and took over the rest.
MPS: You use the Irish con artists, the travelers as part of the story. What appealed to you about them for part of a book?
MC: They are very clannish and insular and I wanted that secretiveness to shroud some of the mystery of the story. I wondered what it would take to escape that world and what would happen when you tired.
MPS: What I love about the Cahill books, they have everything you want from P.I. fiction, but there is a real feel of detective work with its stake outs and tailing. What do you want to capture about the way Rick does his job?
MC: I try to show the unexciting parts of the job to make Rick’s day to day life seem real without letting the story get boring. If he’s sitting on a stakeout when, seemingly, nothing happens I like to throw in a little twist that steers the story in a different direction. My main concern, though, is showing how Rick becomes emotionally invested in some cases and how dangerous that is to him and those he tries to help.
MPS: While the books have a modern voice, there are echoes of classic hard boiled detective fiction in them. Do you draw from any influences?
MC: While I don’t consciously try to let my influences inform my work, I don’t think one can ever completely escape them. That’s probably a good thing. I read Chandler and Macdonald when I was a teenager and I’m sure they’ve influenced my work more than I realize. The one trope I’ll admit to using is the lone wolf detective. I like to think of Rick as a gunfighter who comes to town to try to right wrongs according to his own sense of justice. However, he has become more collaborative in his investigations which shows some growth on his part. Progress!
MPS: What does the private eye story allow you to do as a writer?
MC: To paraphrase what Ross Macdonald once said, a private eye can encounter all the social strata of America with the simple excuse of following where the clues of his case lead him. It’s very freeing. You’re not limited to one lane. Beyond that, I think P.I. stories are best when they examine character and crime is an avenue to do that. Stress reveals character and nothing causes more stress than the murder of a friend or loved one. Not only does the murder stress the family and friends of the victim, but also the people investigating the crime and even the murderer. Give me murder and I’ll show you character.