Murder Off The Page is the third book to feature Raymond Ambler, crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library. When his buddy, bartender McNulty, gets pinned with a murder rap, he aims to clear him and gets caught up in the victim’s daouble life. This a wonderful series that is not overtly violent but has a less than cozy feel. His characters have lived in feel and the story always gives us an interesting view of New York. Con was kind enough to take some questions from us. Lehane was kind enough to take a few questions from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.
Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to put McNulty in jeopardy?
Con Lehane: McNulty was there at the beginning of the story but I didn’t know what would happen to him, and I didn’t know he had a past with Shannon until deep into the first draft. I may have had a vague idea that he’d be in trouble. The truth is I didn’t know where this story was going when I began. For a while, I was working on two drafts at the same time, two beginnings to the story; one was called The Librarian and the Damaged Girl; the other working title was McNulty’s Story. The first first-draft began in the house next to the lagoon on Long Island that Ambler visits in chapter five in the final version. The dying woman has summoned Ambler and asks him to find the daughter she abandoned years before. The second first-draft had to do with a woman with risky habits who frequents the Library Tavern and whom McNulty is smitten by. I knew he’d run off with her. I didn’t know he’d become a suspect in a murder.
SM: The murder victim is very intriguing. How did you go about constructing her?
CL: As I noted above, I had two ideas in mind when I began the book. The first I mentioned above is Ambler searching for a dying woman’s estranged daughter. The other idea came from a news story in New York some time back of a young woman doctor who died of a cocaine overdose in Chelsea, a hip section of Manhattan. She was an ophthalmologist, I think, with a husband and a couple of kids in Long Island who came into the city to party by herself. Her story kind of haunted me. I ended up with the dying woman’s missing daughter becoming this woman with two lives, a kind of victim of impulses she didn’t understand and couldn’t control.
SM: Cosgrove gets a lot of page time in the book. What do you enjoy about him as a character?
CL: Some of my favorite books are European police procedurals, especially Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret stories, but also Nicholas Freeling’s Van der Valk series, and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and a bunch of others. I didn’t feel confident trying my own police procedural because I didn’t know enough about police work, and I wasn’t really interested in the nuts-and-bolts, CSI, stuff of how police investigate. So I came up with Cosgrove—intentionally—as my mini-police procedural. I like writing in his voice, and he’s played an increasingly prominent role as the series progressed. He’s a smart guy and knows what he’s doing. I didn’t want him to be a dumb cop foil for Ambler. But he’s different in how he sees the world because he is a cop—different from Ambler and different from me—and I like that.
SM: Ambler is a character who has been through a lot of life even before the series started. What does a character like that allow you as an author?
CL: I wanted Ambler to have lived enough to have been wrong enough times to be careful about judging others for the mistakes they make. I didn’t want a hero wearing the white hat against the bad guys wearing black hats but Ambler to have some darkness in his life as well.
SM: As an author, what has made Raymond Ambler a character worth returning to?
CL: In some ways, I think I return to Ambler to discover more about him. The same is true with the other characters. I write these stories to find out what’s going to happen, in the same way readers read them to find out what’s going to happen. Most of the time, changes take place in Ambler’s life as he’s looking into what’s going on much more dramatically in the lives of others who are victims or perpetrators of murders.
Murder Off The Page is available for purchase now at BookPeople in-store and online now.