FAMILY AND FIREARMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACE ATKINS

The Sinners continues Ace Atkins’ southern crime fiction series with Afghan war vet and Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson. His jurisdiction of Tibbehah County is hopping with a murder tied to a nemesis of the previous sheriff, Quinn’s dead uncle. His buddy Boom finds himself working for a questionable trucking company. All his tied to Mississippi queen-pin Fannie. If that wasn’t enough, Quinn’s getting married. Ace will be at BookPeople on July 24th with Megan Abbott with her new book Give Me Your Hand to sign and discuss their latest books and crime fiction. We caught up with him early to catch us up with Quinn.

MysteryPeople Scott: Family plays a big part in the series, but especially in this one, with Quinn going after a criminal family who are in some part a result from the sins of his uncle. You also have him getting married. What did you want to explore?

The Sinners (Quinn Colson Novel #8) Cover ImageAA: When I first started this series, I liked the idea of playing with time. Being able to go back into the history of Tibbehah County and seeing the ripple effect of major events really interests me. Or as Mr. Faulkner says, the past is never dead . . .

I hope as the series moves forward to really explore the county — from its founding to the wild days of bootlegging and beyond. The connection to the important – and infamous – families keep us all tied to one big story.

MPS: I was happy to see Boom get a large amount of time as a character. What made you want to put more focus on him?

AA: I figured it was about damn time. Boom has been a supporting figure for far too long. He’s always interested me as a complex man who’s been to hell and back, coming home from Iraq with a horrific injury. I wanted Boom to to have his own story, away from Quinn, and outside Tibbehah County. I’d always like the idea of truckers, a big fan of the trucker films of the 70s, and thought Boom was ideal to take the wheel. I’ve heard about a lot of one-armed truckers who overcame their disability and conquered the road. There was no doubt Boom could do it.

MPS: Fannie grows to be a more complex and interesting character with each book. How did she initially come to creation?

Image result for ace atkinsAA: Oh, I love Fannie, too. She’s so much fun to write. She really came from a few places. Most notably Joan Crawford’s performance as Vienna in Johnny Guitar. I also borrowed a lot from a woman named Fannie Belle, a real life madame, I’d written about in one of my True Crime Novels, Wicked City.

I think her role – in the big picture of all the novels – has certainly grown. And her relationship with Quinn and her cohorts in the Dixie Mafia has only gotten more complex. She is a very strong independent woman in a male dominated world of crime. But she proves time and again, she can outsmart them all.

MPS: There is a great balance of the crime plot and the planning of the wedding, that never feels like a B story. What does that part of the book allow you to do with Quinn?

AA: That was really the toughest part of The Sinners for me. I knew Quinn was going to marry Maggie going back to The Fallen. It’s high time for him to get hitched, although he’ll never settle down. But I didn’t want write anything overly sentimental or melodramatic. And that’s hard as hell with a wedding. I think Quinn getting married, and now having a family with a young son, will only make the stories more interesting.

MPS: Do you think marriage means Quinn is settling down or will provide new struggles for him to deal with?

AA: I’d look at Quinn being married like Spenser with Susan Silverman. Just because a man is monogamous doesn’t mean his life is boring. In fact, I find the the bed-hopping hero to be a little old and unbelievable. Maybe in the sixties. But not now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at an author writing a hero who’s irresistible to women.

MPS: You’ll be doing an event with us at BookPeople with Megan Abbott. What makes her a stand-out author to you?

AA: Megan Abbott is simply the best! I admire her writing and her knowledge of the genre a ton. Whether it’s film noir or classic hard boiled heroes, few know more than Megan. We’ve been close friends for a long while and can’t wait to sit down and talk about her novel in Austin. Her latest book — Give Me Your Hand – is just outstanding, gut wrenching and mean as hell. I loved it.

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FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOUR MYSTERIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH MEGAN ABBOTT

When it comes to portraying the darkest desires of the human heart and the actions they trigger, Megan Abbott writes about them with grace and elegance that creates eerie noir able to completely connect with the reader. Her latest, Give Me Your Hand, uses the backdrop of the science field to look at the danger of ambition and secrets with two researchers reunited in competition for a research project under an esteemed scientist and a shared confidence severed their bond in high school. Megan will be joining Ace Atkins whose new book is The Sinners for an event here Tuesday, July 24th at 7pm.

Image result for megan abbottMysteryPeople Scott: On first glance, the world of science and the lab seem like an atypical setting for noir. What did it allow you to do with the genre?

Megan Abbott: I guess I’ve always thought of labs as spooky places, full of atmosphere. Slick surfaces, dark corners and the body and mortality. Blood. And once I started to read about the hothouse environment in competitive labs, I knew it was perfect.  

MPS: What was your biggest take away in researching that world?

MA: The stakes are very high there. I became fascinated about stories of “labotage”—researchers sabotaging one another’s work, mixing up slides, dumping results. And it’s also a world where women are still very much in the minority, making it very complicated for women working in that world…which is what we see with Kit and Diane.

MPS: How did premenstrual dysphoric disorder become the research subject?

MA: Given the lack of funding for research into women’s health issues, I knew I wanted them to be studying a “female” condition. And I began reading about PMDD (AKA extreme PMS)—how calamitous it can be for women who suffer from it, how it can rule their lives. The extreme mood swings, the anger, the despair. I’m always drawn to stories that enable you to explore the way women’s bodies are seen as disruptive, dangerous.

MPS: Diane is one of those noir characters you often use who is part a full-fledged person and part the gaze of the protagonist. Do you have to keep anything in mind when dealing with that kind of character?

MA: What a great question. I think, with those characters, they’re mysteries to me during the first stages of writing the book. And then I slowly uncover their secrets—as I did Diane. And then ultimately, I grow to love them—as I did Diane. And that love is the only way the book works, if it does. I have to fall in love with my mysteries.

MPS: How did you get the name Diane Fleming, since it fits both who she is and what people picture her to be perfectly?

Give Me Your Hand Cover ImageMA: Boy, names are so hard. I usually keep changing the name over and over until one finally sticks, feels right. And I admit, this one just came to me. I hadn’t even thought of its larger resonances, but you’re right!

MPS: I couldn’t help but think Severin’s lab with a pool of smart talented people working on a project by an esteemed professional in the field sounded to me what the writers’ room of “The Deuce” might be like. Did you pull anything from your own experience for Give Me Your Hand?

MA: Haha! I don’t think so. But it was a very male environment for Lisa (Lutz) and me, so maybe there’s something to it!

MPS: You’ll being doing an event with us on July 24th with Ace Atkins, a writer who you are a big fan of. What do you admire about him?

MA: His ability to pound bourbon and talk Burt Reynolds movies until all hours of the night? His good looks and charm? Yes, yes, and yes. But most of all, it’s his books. I’ve read them all, I love them all, and The Sinners is Ace at his best. No one paints a world more vividly than Ace. No one has a richer palette of characters. He’s the best.

BEN REHDER INTERVIEW

A Tooth For A Tooth is Ben Rehder’s latest novel to feature Roy Ballard, a legal videographer operating in Austin with his partner and now fiancé Mia. Roy takes a job to prove fraud in what may be an insurance scam, but finds darker crimes when people start shooting at him. It’s hard to say  more about the book without giving away surprises, but both Ben and I tried our best in this interview. Take a look and join us Sunday at 2pm when Ben is here with Reavis Z. Wortham and Billy Kring to talk about their books.

MysteryPeople Scott: I felt A Tooth For a Tooth was one of your more complex mysteries, yet it made crystal clear sense in the unraveling. Did you have it all plotted out before you started?

A Tooth for a Tooth Cover ImageBen Rehder: I’ve always started my novels with just an idea and a few characters, but not an outline, so I’m largely making it up as I go along. The good news is, that leads to a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Glad it made sense in the end!

MPS: I notice that Roy seems more likely to have a gun ready and possibly less trusting. Have past jobs made him more jaded or just more aware?

BR: He’s always had a gun accessible, but it’s probably on his mind more in recent books. I think he has more to lose, and more to protect, now that he’s in a relationship with Mia. He doesn’t want some goon to come along and screw that up! Both of them have had to deal with violent people on several occasions, and now more than ever, Roy wants to be prepared for whatever might come along.

MPS: While he deals with her over the phone, Mia isn’t physically there with Roy at the beginning of the book. Was there a particular reason for that decision?

BR: I wanted Roy to be on his own for a period as he dealt with some personal issues and grappled with some poor decisions he’d made in the past. Some of these involved Mia, and some would certainly impact their relationship.

MPS: Did it present any challenge?

Image result for ben rehderBR: Not particularly, no, and it gave Roy time to put more thought into one particular challenge than he otherwise might have. Hate to be cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers.

MPS: While you deliver a first rate detective plot, you take time to deal with Roy and Mia’s relationship, and have chapters that deal with the repercussions of the plot, like a wonderful exchange with a neighbor complaining about the shootout. Do you feel these moments are as essential to the story as the plot?

BR: Absolutely. If you build a character well, readers are interested in all aspects of their lives. You also want your reader to understand that your protagonist is human and has moments of self-doubt, like everyone else. Roy struggles with that sort of thing more than he would ever let on. For instance, he doesn’t want to be the guy endangering his neighbors, but at the same time, he’s irritated that the neighbor is making him think about such things.

MPS: Even in your more satirical books, when someone is shot, the act is rarely dismissed. Do you feel an author has a certain responsibility when portraying violence?

BR: To a degree, yes, but less so when the violence is obviously used for farcical or comic effect. It also depends on the context. If I wrote a series in which violence was frequently presented as the solution to most of my protagonist’s problems, I’d feel uncomfortable with that. If one of my characters is tempted to commit violence in a serious scene, I want him or her to struggle with it, before, during, and after. That’s how most people with a conscience would handle it in real life.

INTERVIEW WITH BILLY KRING

If there was any justice in the publishing world Billy Kring’s Hunter Kincaid series would be as well known as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Full of action, great plotting, and always topical, the Texas Border Patrol agent and her cohorts take on the baddest of the bad from two separate counties. In Hunter’s Moon, she is recruited by a CIA agent, Art Gonzales, to track down those who killed his partner, she finds herself up against a cartel who use drones in various illegal ways. Billy will be joining Reavis Wortham and Ben Redher at BookPeople on July 8th at 2pm to talk about the book as well as Texas crime writing, but is flying solo for this interview we did with him.

Hunter's Moon Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did drones become a big player in Hunter’s latest case?

Billy Kring: I’ve been watching the technological advances in drones, both in use and in their capability, for the last five or so years, and have read little blurbs here and there on drones being used on the border to smuggle drugs into the country. Some reports from Mexico were more helpful than those from the U.S. side, talking about how their use is expanding, and in a lot of areas, including some that talked about weapons brought into Mexico by drones. And, in the last year, about things like the Sarin gas I used in my story. The possibilities are almost endless. And of course, then I thought about how Hunter would handle them, which started the entire story spinning in my head.

MPS: What was the most surprising thing you learned in the research?

BK: The most surprising thing was how prevalent and specialized homemade drones were becoming. Some are capable of moving loads of several hundred pounds, and flying individuals around on them, like something out of Star Wars. It’s amazing that all of them were made in someone’s garage or workshop. Arming them with weapons was inevitable, but even that surprised me because of their use as potential sniper or assassination weapons with locally purchased firearms.  Commercially manufactured drones like the Predator cost over a million dollars, but handmade drones can run less than a thousand dollars, often much less. And the rate of technological advancement in drones is incredible, both in the homemade area and in the scientific/military arena.

MPS: Did using them present any challenge to you as writer, particularly with many of the action scenes?

BK: Yes, because I’m not a flyer. I learned how to fly them while researching the story, but it still took some thinking about the scenes, because I wrote them from several viewpoints at the same time: the victim, the drone itself, and the flyer. Sure was fun to write, though!

MPS: One thing the Hunter series is known for are the villains. What did you want to explore with Pascual?

BK: Pascual Osorio is an opportunist, with a criminal bent, but not necessarily a killer like some of his associates have been. His power and influence has faded since the death of his deadly ally Prendell “Conan” Taylor, and when he joins with the mastermind of the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, he does so out of desperation and that sense of lost power. When the terrorist takes over and shoves him to the curb (while Pascual is suffering from cancer), I thought his mental state and desperation would be interesting to explore. Where does a dying man turn? What does he dwell on about this life? That he turned to Hunter Kincaid, his old nemesis, made for a unique alliance. It also played into the old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

MPS: Hunter is off the books in this mission, did that make the story tougher or easier to right?

BK: It was tougher. When writing about Hunter working in her official capacity, the rules are set out by the agency. When she goes under the radar, she’s operating in an environment with no rules, none. She’s surviving by her wits while still trying to accomplish a mission that’s not sanctioned, well, at least on the surface. Lots of things to think about when there are no rules.

MPS: Art Gonzales, the CIA agent Hunter has to work with, is a great character because he seems like he could go either way as ally or enemy to Hunter. What do you have to keep in mind when writing that kind of character?

BK: Art is just that way: he’s placed with Hunter to assist her to complete the assignment, or to push her out of the picture if she’s obstructing things. He’s one of the elite members of the CIA’s Special Operations Group, and can, if need be, perform sanctions. But, he winds up liking Hunter and they hit it off very well. As for what develops between them, that comes later in the story!

INTERVIEW WITH REAVIS WORTHAM

Hawke’s War, the second novel to feature Reavis Wortham’s hard case Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk, is an action packed paperback that rivals any blockbusters this summer when it comes to blazing guns and perilous chases, with Sonny in the cross hairs of both terrorists and a drug cartel out for revenge in Big Bend Park. Reavis will be joining fellow Texas crime writers Billy Kring and Ben Rehder at BookPeople on July 8th at 2PM, but we talked to him beforehand to get answers to a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: While it can be read by itself, the plot in Hawke’s War is a result from events in Hawke’s Prey. Did you know the first would lead into the second?

Reavis Wortham: The truth is that I have no idea what’s going to happen from one paragraph to the next, let alone from one book to another. Kensington Publishing gave me a three-book contract we call the Sonny Hawke Thriller Series. I pitched the idea for Hawke’s Prey one day and my agent liked it. She contacted Kensington and my editor there was excited about the idea of a contemporary Texas Ranger who walks a fine line between right and wrong. With that, I submitted the first novel for publication and a couple of weeks before they went to press, my editor sent me an email saying she needed the first chapter of Hawke’s War.

I had no idea what would happen. I sat down at my desk, put my fingers on the keys, and Big Bend National Park popped into my mind. I typed the first words that led to more. Before I knew it, four back country hikers were ambushed by an unknown shooter. Even then I didn’t have any idea who he was, or why he was shooting, until one survivor escaped. It was only then, when the narrative shifted perspective, did I know what was happening. It took several more chapters for even me to find out who the assassin was, and who he was ultimately after.

Hawke's War (Sonny Hawke Thriller #2) Cover ImageMPS: Big Bend National Park is the setting for a lot of the action. What made it a great back drop for this kind of story?

RW: After finishing the first novel, Hawke’s Prey, I realized what I was writing was a throwback to the old west. Some might call them modern westerns, but others simply use the term Texas Thriller. While I was working on the first book, the bride and I went out to Marfa and Alpine to explore. We wound up in Big Bend National Park for a few days, hiking and enjoying the high desert. On one of those hikes, I looked up at the rocks overhead and wondered, what if….

The Big Bend area is a vast, rugged landscape where hikers and tourists often get in trouble. The park service routinely rescues lost hikers and discussions with those personnel gave me an idea that eventually became Hawke’s War. To the east of the park is the Black Gap Wildlife Management area with extends down to the Rio Grande. The main two lane road dead ends at Boquillas de Carmen, a Mexican town on the other side of the river. The bridge there has been blocked since 9-11, and the town died. It was the perfect setting for the climax and a wonderful backdrop for a modern western thriller.

MPS: This book has more action packed into it than a John Woo and Stallone movie combined, yet I never lost touch with Sonny, his friends and family. How do you keep us connected to those handful of characters, while keeping things constantly moving?

RW: Wow. What a compliment! Folks are asking me that question more and more and the answer is simple. I don’t know. I truly can’t explain what goes on in my subconscious when I’m writing. I see it appear on my computer screen as if someone else is writing the story, and when character perspective changes, I want to know what’s going on with the others, so I look at the story through their eyes. It’s a juggling act that comes easy on my part, but probably harder with writers who have to outline.

MPS: One of your good friends is thriller writer John Gilstrap. Did you take anything from his books when developing this series?

RW: I haven’t taken anything from John’s books, but a lot from his experience. We routinely spend vast amounts of time consuming either Scotch or gin and talking about the business, sometimes all night long. He’s been a bestselling author for years, and has seen it all. We now read each other’s manuscripts and comment. He’s offered excellent suggestions that have improved my story lines, and helped me avoid a number of pitfalls. This also relates to your question above, about keeping things moving. I read his style and shifting character perspectives, and used those in my own works, with my own twists. Writers learn from other writers, much of the time before they start, when they’re young readers. Then they digest those styles and stories before creating their own characters, books, and series. I’ve learned from the best.

MPS: In both your series, you deal with Texas lawmen. What do you want to get across to the reader about that profession?

RW: As many know, my maternal grandfather was a lawman, a rural constable. I grew up with men and women who upheld the law. At the same time, my parents always told me that “The police are your very best friends. They will help you, and be there for you, if you only ask.”

Law enforcement officers are charged with the most difficult job in this country, in my opinion, and that’s to uphold the law. They deal with difficult people on a daily basis and do their best to maintain this delicate balance we call civilization. If it weren’t for them, this country would dissolve into chaos. That’s why I hold them in high regard, personally and professionally. My characters will always do what’s right and what’s best for the state and its inhabitants to keep them safe. I back everyone who wears a badge, and yeah, there are always a few bad people who damage their profession, but in the long run, they’re all just like us, family men and women who want to do their best every day.

MPS: You’ll have a new Red River book, Gold Dust, coming out in September. What can you tell us about that?

RW: Book 7 in this series, Gold Dust, is a little overdue, but that was to keep two books in two different series from releasing at the same time. For some reason, a number of readers thought the Red River series was over, but that’s not the case. Gold Dust picks up only a couple of months after Unraveled, the sixth book in the Red River series. Here’s the inside flap:

“As the 1960s draw to a close, the rural northeast Texas community of Center Springs is visited by two nondescript government men in dark suits and shades. They say their assignment is to test weather currents and patterns, but that’s a lie. Their delivery of a mysterious microscopic payload called Gold Dust from a hired crop duster coincides with fourteen-year-old Pepper Parker’s discovery of an ancient gold coin in her dad’s possession. Her adolescent trick played on a greedy adult results in the only gold rush in North Texas history. Add in modern-day cattle-rustlers and murderers, and Center Springs is once again the bull’s-eye in a deadly target.

The biological agent deemed benign by the CIA has unexpected repercussions, putting Pepper’s near-twin cousin, Top, at death’s door. The boy’s crisis sends their grandfather, Constable Ned Parker, to Washington D.C. to exact personal justice, joined by a man Ned left behind in Mexico and had presumed dead. The CIA agents who operate on the dark side of the U.S. government find they’re no match for men who know they’re right and won’t stop. Especially two old country boys raised on shotguns.

But there’s more. Lots more. Top Parker thought only he had what had become known as a Poisoned Gift, but Ned suffers his own form of a family curse he must deploy. Plus, there are many trails to follow as the lawmen desperately work to put an end to murder and government experimentation that extends from their tiny Texas town to Austin and, ultimately, to Washington, D.C. Traitors, cattle-rustlers, murderers, rural crime families, grave robbers, CIA turncoats, and gold-hungry prospectors pursue agendas that all, in a sense, revolve around the center of this small vortex called Center Springs.

Gold Dust seems to be fiction, but the truth is, it has already happened.”

Much of this story came from U.S. experimentation on our own citizens back in the 1950s. The more I read about this clandestine and deadly test in California, the more I wondered how many other times researchers used American citizens in their tests. At the same time, a Facebook friend asked if I’d ever heard of gold buried in Lamar County. That conversation led to the book’s second story line and once again, my subconscious took over, tied the two together, and Gold Dust almost wrote itself.

Jay Brandon on writing a legal thriller

Jay Brandon’s Against the Law features Edward Hall, a lawyer stripped of his license due to a criminal act in the court house. When his sister is brought to trial for murdering her estranged husband, he takes to her defense.  Mr. Brandon will be joining fellow lawyer turned novelist Manning Wolfe at BookPeople on June 24th at 2pm. We caught up with him early to discuss the court system and writing about it.

Against the Law: A Courtroom Drama Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea for Against the Law come about?

Jay Brandon: I hadn’t written a legal thriller in a while, I wanted to write other kinds of books.  One day when I was visiting Houston, where I went to law school, an old friend of mine took me to their Criminal Justice Center, a twenty-story building filled with courts and so many defendants.  The elevators were a problem, he said. They were so slow and so crowded it took forever to get up or down. The local joke was “the Justice Center, only twenty minutes from downtown Houston.” That gave me an idea: a crime inside a courthouse.  Who would naturally commit such a crime? A lawyer. That was the beginning. I’ve never had a courthouse itself figure so prominently in a novel. Ironically, by the time the book came out the Justice Center was non-functional, knocked out by Hurricane Harvey.

MPS: Edward possesses a jaded look out on his sister’s case. Is that due to the system or his circumstances?

JB: It’s because of his experience within the system.  He knows that the vast majority of defendants are guilty of their charge.  Worse, the system doesn’t know how to treat one who’s not: “the irregularly shaped pebble that rolls down the conveyor belt with all the other peas, into the can.”  Besides, Amy is the perfect candidate. When one member of an estranged couple is murdered, where do you look for your prime suspect?

MPS: Because of the nature of Edward’s case, sibling dynamics are explored. What did you want to explore in that?

JB: That just grew out of the material.  Edward is disbarred after having been convicted of his crime.  I tried to think of a case that could bring him back to the legal world; a family member in jeopardy seemed right.  I’ve written about families before, it’s a fascinating subject, but this time, maybe because the book is set in Houston, the family is rich and well-known.  Edward and Amy’s father is a world-class diagnostician. Amy has followed in his footsteps to become a doctor too, and married a doctor as well. Edward, who started out as the favored son, fell into disfavor a little when he became a lawyer, and a criminal lawyer at that.  His prison stint sealed his status as the black sheep of the family. But the case brings Edward and Amy closer than they’ve been since they were children. They learn secrets about each other, they depend on each other – even against their parents to a certain extent. But of course Edward can’t forget that she’s very likely a murderer.  But wouldn’t you try to help your little sister escape prison even if she was.

MPS: The book has a lot of twists and reveals that fit so well with the pace and flow of the story. How much was planned ahead?

JB: I used to outline novels very rigorously, 20 or 30 page outlines.  Now I just take a lot of notes and when I feel I have a good grasp of the idea (usually about 10-15 single-spaced pages of notes), I start.  So much of the plot is planned, but a lot of it develops as the story grows. I love creating characters, it may be my favorite thing about writing.  Plotting is harder, it’s like algebra problems. At a certain point the characters start taking over. They do what they’re going to do, not what I had planned for them.  If they don’t start taking over their own lives and stories, they’re not very good characters.

MPS: As a lawyer, was there anything you wanted to get across about your profession?

JB: What a village the courthouse world is.  Most lawyers aren’t criminal lawyers, most lawyers seldom or never go to court.  Criminal lawyers do almost daily. So that building is its own world. Gossip sometimes seems to be the primary business of the courthouse.  We all know each other’s business, or think we do. It’s great for storytelling. There are romances, rivalries, intrigues. It’s like high school, except they’re also sending people to prison.

MPS: What do writers who are non lawyers get wrong?

JB: One other thing I wanted to convey that non-lawyers often don’t understand about the adversarial system of trials is that people can oppose each other vigorously without being hostile.  Once I tried a case, defending someone accused of vehicle theft, and I won. It wasn’t exactly a technicality, but it was some creative lawyering, I have to say. The judge said “not guilty,” I turned to my client, he said, “What now?” and I said, “Now you get to leave.”  He thanked me and started walking out while I stayed at the counsel table. He looked back to see the two prosecutors I’d just won against converging on me and he looked anxious for me. What he didn’t see after he went out was the prosecutors shaking my hand and congratulating me.  We knew each other, we’d worked together in the past, and they didn’t begrudge my victory.

The prosecutor in Against the Law embodies that.  He and David were competitive colleagues in the DA’s office and now they’re pitted against each other.  But the prosecutor isn’t a jerk about it. He knows how important the case is to Edward, but he has to do his job.  But he does it in a collegial way. It’s not always that way in the practice of law, but when it’s done right it is.

Q&A with Mike Nemeth: institutions as the enemy

The Undiscovered Country Cover ImageMike Nemeth uses the thriller in interesting and unique ways. He often has an institution as the enemy. With his second Randle Marks novel, The Undiscovered Country, it is the combination of family and the health care system. We talked to Mr. Nemeth, who will be at BookPeople June 16th at 2pm with Tim Bryant about how he tackles this form of crime writing.

MysteryPeople Scott: Did you know you had another novel in Randle Marks after Defiled?

Mike Nemeth: Yes, I had planned three standalone stories, all with Randle as the protagonist. Basically, a series of life challenges, told as thrillers, that illustrated the themes I wanted to make readers aware of.

MPS:  Elmore Leonard said he always liked using someone out of prison as a protagonist because they could go anywhere morally. What did that part of Randle allow you to play to?

MN: Elmore Leonard is my inspiration for dialog and pacing, so I’m happy you brought him up.

In The Undiscovered Country Randle says, “I had picked up an abiding lesson from prison: I had a license to be disinhibited. I could do most anything to survive. Everyone in prison learned the same lesson.” He had been to hell and back so he feared no punishment for his behavior. He had complete freedom, and so did I as his director. He’s the scoundrel we root for.

MPS: One could argue you took a Pat Conroy-style southern family drama and gave it a thriller plot. What about family did you want to explore?

MN: Pat Conroy? I’m blushing! Southerners have an exaggerated sense of tribe combined with a deep-seated need for self-discovery and those characteristics drive the story along.

MPS: The Georgia setting also plays an important part, particularly when Randle investigates his family’s past. Was there anything you wanted to say about the south?

MN: My friend Johnnie Bernhard, a writer from Mississippi, said it best: “In the South, the past is never past.” I wanted the ambiance as well: heavy air, sultry nights, passion always close to the surface.

MPS: What impresses me about your books is how when most crime fiction and thriller authors have their hero take on the system, it’s usually in the form of one antagonist or two, but you are able to portray the whole bureaucracy, whether the legal system or health care, as the enemy. How do approach that aspect of your novels?

MN: I personalize the institutions. In Defiled, Tony Zambrano (Randle’s lawyer), Judge Matthews-Bryant, and Lieutenant Callahan behave generically to represent the legal system but in a specific, very personal circumstance for Randle and Carrie. In The Undiscovered Country, Dr. Metzger and Dr. Kaplan are the medical establishment. So we do have antagonists, but they abide by the universal truths of their institutions. I want the reader to get the point of the story, but I always want the reader to feel that Randle is battling specific people.

MPS: I’ve heard you’re planning a trilogy with Randle Marks. Can you tell us anything about the final chapter?

I regret now calling this a trilogy because there are so many interesting challenges I could give Randle. The next installment is about the decline of the middle class in America. Randle takes a job in the high tech industry and faces the moral dilemma of whether all advances in technology are intrinsically “good” despite their impact on society. Outsourcing, automation, artificial intelligence and robotics are relentlessly stripping away the jobs on which the middle class depends. Without a super-consumer middle class, where would America be in the world order? The thriller plot revolves around the return of Carrie to threaten Randle’s life reboot and his discovery of his true identity. Of course there will be murders to solve.