Interview with S.C. Perkins-Murder Once Removed

Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover ImageS.C. Perkins’s Murder Once Removed, winner of The Malice Domestic Award, proves to be an addition to the light mystery subgenre. The protagonist, Lucy Lancaster, operates as a genealogist or “ancestry detective”, giving her many inherent skills for amateur detective work. She needs to put all of them to use when the discovery of one senatorial candidate murdering the relative of his rival in 1849 sparks another murder in the present. S.C. was kind enough to talk about the series and her character.

1.      What drew you to a genealogist as an amateur sleuth?

I have amateur genealogists in my family going back to my paternal great-grandfather, so I grew up hearing stories of my ancestry. When I began thinking of a profession for my protagonist, a genealogist came quickly to mind. If you think about it, there’s a built-in element of mystery of one level or another in researching anyone’s ancestry—and sometimes it makes for a great murder mystery! I thought how fun it would be for Lucy (my main character) to solve some of those mysteries, and have the past affect the present. Plus, I’m a history geek, so getting to include some historical elements made it even more of a no-brainer.

2.      What do you want to explore about ancestry?

There’s many fascinating aspects of researching a person’s ancestry, and I’m curious about them all. Though with DNA testing and forensic genealogy coming into the news more and more, it’s clear things can also get very technical or very dark pretty quickly—we’re talking potentially psychological-thriller-level dark here. However, since I’m writing a cozy mystery series, I’m happy to stay on the lighter end of things to keep the fun and humor coming while still doling out interesting facts about the process of researching a person’s lineage.

3.      Austin is used in a colorful way. What makes it a great city to write about for you?

One of the hallmarks of a good cozy mystery is having a small town with charm of its own, usually inhabited by quirky characters. Austin may technically be a modern, fast-moving city, but it manages to retain a small-town feel—and you can’t beat it for being a place filled with all types of personalities and a fun, anything-goes mentality. Plus, Austin also has all the research facilities a professional genealogist like Lucy needs. There really was no better place than Austin for me to have as Lucy’s home base.

4.      How did Flaco’s Tacos become a touchstone for Lucy?

First, I wanted Lucy to have her own version of a coffee shop or a local bar where she could have a hangout of her own. And since I love to eat—and because tacos rule—it made sense for Lucy to be a bit of a taco addict. The character of Julio “Big Flaco” Medrano actually started out as a bit player in another novel, in fact, but Flaco was such fun to write and I felt he had more to offer, so giving him to Lucy as her scary-seeming, but sweet-hearted taqueria-owning friend just made sense. Plus, Lucy can drown herself in margaritas or queso (or both) at Big Flaco’s Tacos, and no bar or coffee shop can offer that!

5.      You have a lot of fun with Texas culture. What do you think defines the people?

In Texas, we’ve got the whole Southern thing going for us, which I happen to love, but we’re just enough west to have some of that Wild West spirit still running through our veins. We’re as famous for our gumption as we are for our warmth and friendliness, which makes for something extra-special about Texas and Texans that the whole world knows, even if they’ve yet to visit. It makes me incredibly proud to be a Texan for sure.

6.      What can you tell us about Lucy’s next mystery?

If all goes well, Lucy will be delving into a World War II mystery in her next adventure, and there may or may not be an espionage element. I’m very excited about it and I’m definitely having fun writing it!

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN AUTHOR CARA ROBERTSON

In 1990 writer Cara Robertson began her senior thesis on the famous case of Lizzie Borden, accused of killing her father and step mother in 1892. When she finished the thesis she was still fascinated so she kept writing, reading, and researching. Her new book is the result of those decades of work.

9781501168376_a1a7a.jpgThe Trial of Lizzie Borden, her first book, is fascinating and absorbing, as interesting and with as many in depth characters as many great mysteries. In it, Robertson shows how the murder and the case—much of the book is focused on the trial itself—offer a window into the Gilded Age and yet it continues to influence our understanding and interpretation of American crime stories today.  It was also the first tabloid murder spectacle.

Robertson is a lawyer whose writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, the Raleigh News, and Observer, and the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. A former Supreme Court law clerk, she served as a legal adviser to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford Law School.

She was kind enough to let me interview her. I’ve heard many references to this case over the years but the more I read the more I realized what I thought I “knew” was wrong, starting with the basic fact I thought she was found guilty.

Scott Butki: What made you decide to not just pick the Lizzie Borden case for your senior thesis but to work on it for over 20 years of research?

Cara Robertson: I was drawn to the mystery—it was both a whodunit and a whydunit—and to the idea of using a public trial as a lens onto the Gilded Age of American history. I liked the idea of working with a combination of primary sources—trial transcripts, newspaper accounts, contemporary diaries to name a few—to create a portrait of an era, and in particular its views of women.

Scott: What are some of the surprises you found doing the extensive research you did?

Cara: I was struck by how little was actually known about Lizzie Borden before the murders. There was a lot of post-trial gossip that led to fanciful stories about her early years. The biggest surprise was finding the sentimental birthday greetings she sent to children of the domestic staff.

Scott: When I told people I’m interviewing you about this case, and what questions they might have, one cropped up several times, as we look at this from the #metoo movement: Is there a chance she and/or family members were being sexually or physically molested?

Cara: Today, in this #MeToo moment, I think the idea of female rage has great resonance, and that affects how we interpret the murders. For example, the most recent film version Lizzie (starring Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart) piles on the motivations so that the murders are the desperate act of someone trapped in an intolerable situation, someone who wants independence from rapacious men.

Many who look at the Borden household wonder about the relationship between father and daughter or perhaps the uncle and the Borden daughters. The apparent intensity of father-daughter bond (symbolized by a ring Lizzie gave to Andrew Borden), the absent mother and powerless stepmother, floor plan (the bedrooms that opened onto each other), and the savagery of the killings all seem to give support to this possible explanation. However, it is worth noting that many of the things that seem disturbing in the Borden household, retrospectively, in light of the murders, would have been true in many households. And it’s not a coincidence that this interpretation gained currency in the 1990s, in the wake of new cultural understandings of incest.

Such interpretations inevitably tell us more about the anxieties of the chroniclers, and the moment in which they write, than any essential truth about the mystery.

Scott: I confess I was surprised that the one thing I thought I “knew”—that she killed others and was found guilty—was completely wrong. Do you think that many have that belief? Is that related, do you think, in all the ways the story has been passed down for years, in music, movies, etc?

Cara: I think there is something so stripped down and mythological about the story that fictionalizers need to add something romantic to the story.

Scott: I usually do interviews for this publication about fictional crime stories. What would you say to those folks, wondering if they should try this true crime book?

Cara: Truth is stranger than fiction and more compelling!

Scott: What lessons or points do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Cara: I hope people realize that when dealing with ordinary people accused of crimes so much of our assessment of character is retrospective, through the lens of the accusation, so that we should be wary of thinking we can understand their personalities or essential characters from those clues.

Scott: I find it interesting that she stayed in town after the trial, just moving to a fancier place and changing her name slightly (From Lizzie to Lizbeth). What do you think made her to make to decide to stay in town?

Cara: It’s one of the most intriguing aspects of her character that she chose to stay in Fall River, shunned by the people she most wished to know, rather than live out her life in anonymity elsewhere. After the acquittal, she moved to a grander house in the elite residential district of Fall River, attended the World’s Fair in Chicago, and was an independently wealthy woman. Yet, she was frozen out of her church, the same church whose spiritual leaders had provided the bedrock of her support during the trial. That set the tone for her treatment in the polite circles of the town. I think her choice to stay in Fall River shows her nerve, the self-possession she displayed at trial, and perhaps also her parochialism.

Scott: I’m intrigued by the fact that all this many years ago there are still files locked away from the public, from one of her defense attorneys, former Mass. Governor George Robinson. Is there any indication when, if ever, this will be made public?

Cara: Their position is that they may not even describe what the files contain, let alone disclose the contents. There is no indication that will ever change.

Scott: Do you think we’ll ever know for sure if she is innocent or guilty?

Cara: No, I think it will always remain a mystery.

Scott: How did your former work as a legal adviser to to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and a Visiting Scholar at Stanford Law School help or inform this work?

Cara: Working in the arena of crimes against humanity offers ample evidence that ordinary people can commit heinous acts.

Scott: What are you working on next and do you think it will be another 20 year project?

Cara: I’m working on another legal mystery, involving an enigmatic central figures and several trials. I certainly hope it won’t take as long as the last.

INTERVIEW WITH JOE R LANSDALE

Our March Pick Of The Month, Joe R Lansdale’s The Elephant Of Surprise, is a non stop action crime novel with his regulars Hap and Leonard  trying to protect a girl with a lot of bad men after her during one of the biggest storms in East Texas. Joe will be here to talk about the book and sign at BookPeople on April 3rd. We got a few early questions in.

1. This is a little different from the normal Hap & Leonard. I couldn’t help think of siege movies like Rio Bravo or Assault On Precinct 13 when reading it. Did you have anything particular in mind when you set out?

The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard) Cover ImageHap and Leonard often have social issues mixed with the stories, and I wanted in this one to write something that was what I call a Momentum novel, closer to an old fashioned thriller. I love Rio Bravo and Assault, so they may have influenced me. But I have often done the “holed up against greater odds” type of story, so that seems to be in my DNA, and perhaps its from film influence. I never write with film in mind, but this one is very much an action/adventure book verses the usually casual build up that Hap and Leonard have. Though, now that I think about it, some have started off pretty wild. But it felt different to me and I had a lot of fun doing it. I don’t think I’ll do it on the next Hap and Leonard adventure, but it was a nice change of pace, and a nice way to leave the boys while I write stand-alones. I do plan to return to them. I think I have at least three more books I want to write about them.
2. I was curious since it reads so fast if it was one of your quickest to write?
You know, it did come quickly. I write pretty briskly during my three hours of work a day, but this one just jumped out. I was sometimes writing twenty pages a day. I decided to not go too far afield of a momentum story, just keep it rolling. It slows a little, but it picks up again pretty quickly.
3. Manny gets the most time she’s had since she’s been appearing with Hap and Leonard. What did you enjoy about writing for her?

I find Manny appealing, and I think she’s becoming more and more interesting as the series goes on. Look for her to take a larger role in the future.

4. With the exception of Manny, this is basically Hap and Leonard with the rest of the recurring cast sidelined. Did it feel different with it mainly being a boy’s night out?

It did, but that was the intent. I just wanted to get back to the guys and them handling action. They haven’t aged as much as me, but they are in their early fifties, and it’s starting to show, so I wanted to have them have this real strong, physical moment.

5. The weather is almost as much an adversary as the bad guys. What did you have do keep in mind with storm pounding down through most of the story?

It storms a lot here, so that wasn’t hard. Lot of folks think it was influenced by the terrible hurricane in Houston, but I was already writing it and had that to reinforce what I was doing. I also wanted to hint at climate change, and how things unseasonable, and it also helped deal with the storm inside the characters, as well as provide a limitation of movement to make the story more viable.

6. One thing I enjoyed about the this book is that the action is non-stop. What advice would you give about writing a great action sequence?

I don’t know. It came to me as is, and I didn’t think about it much. I do better if I don’t consider on things too much. You have to consider, of course, but I find out things as I go. There were sidelines I could have made to slow it all down, but I didn’t want to do that this time out. Wanted it to rock.

Interview With Glen Erik Hamilton

Mercy River, Glen Erik Hamilton’s third outing with ex-Army Ranger and ex (for the most part) thief Van Shaw, plays to his military background. When an army pal is charged for murder, a group of criminally bent rangers hold the evidence to clear him and will give it to Van if he helps them locate contraband that was taken from them. The book is topical with a moody, hard boiled attitude. Glen was kind enough to talk to us about it.

Mercy River: A Van Shaw Novel Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: With the previous books, you’ve mainly looked at Van’s criminal past, what did you want to explore about his time in the military?

Glen Erik Hamilton: In Mercy River, Van is among hundreds of his fellow Special Ops veterans, and that offers a chance to show both how Van is similar to his brothers in arms – most notably in his unwavering dedication to protect people for whom he cares – and also how he’s not your average Ranger, if there is such a thing.  That intense military training forged something unique out of the raw ore of Van’s very unusual upbringing.

Specifically, readers get a view into some of Van’s earliest experiences in the Army – the uncompromising selection process for the 75th Ranger Regiment and the leadership program of Ranger School.  These trials formed the foundation for his adult self, stepping away from the criminal perspective of his youth. They also established lifelong friendships, something that the solitary Van needed more than he knew.

MPS: You also took him out of his Seattle stomping ground and put him in a small town. Did that present any challenges?

GEH: Challenges and opportunities. Unlike Van’s established haunts, I had to create the Oregon town of Mercy River and its surrounding Griffon County from scratch.  Which of course means I stole aspects liberally from real places. I visited mall towns (and ghost towns) and dramatic landscapes in sparsely populated counties like Wheeler and Wasco. People might have an image already in their mind when you say Seattle or Portland, but for more remote parts of Oregon, a writer needs to paint the picture of these beautiful and somewhat dangerous environs and provide some insight into a town struggling to survive.

The opportunities, of course, come from playing God as a fiction writer.  Take a gigantic rock formation here, an abandoned mine from there, unique features of the local towns, and mix and match. I get to place Van’s adventures in the most striking locations imaginable. I also get to invent the history, politics, and law enforcement of the community of Mercy River, all of which play into the mystery Van must solve to save his friend.

As someone who has now lives away from your native Northwest, does it give you a different perspective when writing about it?

Absolutely – moving away from Seattle is what originally inspired me to write about it. The city has changed so dramatically in the past decade, it’s hard to encompass all of its transformations. For example, the gap between the haves and have-nots has become a chasm, and large swaths of the city have been razed and rebuilt, for good or ill. I have to – slash – get to visit Seattle frequently just to try and keep a pulse on current events and the challenges facing the Puget Sound area.

MPS: The book deals with both white supremacists and opioids, two things that have been in the news a lot. Is there a responsibility an author has when dealing with current topics?

GEH: First and foremost, a thriller has to entertain.  But when my books involve subjects such as post-traumatic stress, or the opioid crisis, or the encroaching white nationalist movement, then I aim to use those story points as real matters in Van’s world and not just buzzwords.  Van’s fictional fight is grounded in our battles to conquer those very real horrors. And if I’m very fortunate, his endurance might offer readers hope for our own victory.

MPS: You have some excellent action and heist sequences in the book. What do you keep in mind when writing those parts?

GEH: Thank you! First and foremost, any action scene has to be very clear to the reader.* That means understanding the geography of location and characters, the immediate danger, and the intent the protagonist has at any given moment.  There are some rules of thumb: The faster the action, the slower the pace of the writing, and the shorter the sentences. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the writing will feel faster to readers, and action scenes are all about gut feelings.  If my pulse quickens when I’m re-reading a draft – and bear in mind I already know what’s going to happen because I wrote the darn thing – then I’m on the right track.

*The exception to the “clarity” rule is when the protagonist’s head is addled due to getting hit or getting doped.  That can be exciting too, as the hero or heroine scrambles to figure out what the heck is happening.

MPS: As a writer, what makes Van Shaw a character coming back to?

GEH: Van has experienced at least one full lifetime’s worth of drama and action, but he’s still a young man.  While he might never admit it to himself, a part of him did not expect to survive this long. Instinctively, Van approached his time in Special Operations with the mindset of a samurai, being prepared to die any day.  Now that he’s out in the world he’s having to learn skills that aren’t just tactical in nature. For example, forming lasting relationships and being part of a family. He also has to wrestle with his purpose in life, given that what he’s really good at – crime, violence, and ticking off dangerous people – often clash with the moral center he’s trying very hard to hang onto.  That’s a lot of fun for me to write. I learn new things about Van with every book, and hope readers enjoy his growth as much as I do.

INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM BOYLE

I’ll be very surprised if William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself is not on my Top 10 at the end of the year. This humorous and at times harrowing look at a mob widow and retired porn star who connect over a stolen Impala, a bag full of mob cash, and some very bad men is one of the most unique and entertaining crime novels in some time. Boyle steadily building his reputation and in a perfect world, this would put him over the top. Bill was kind enough to take some questions bout it.

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Rena and Wolfstein are such unique characters. How did they come into mind for the book?

William Boyle: A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself started for me when my neighbor in Brooklyn told my mother and me a story about being invited over to our other neighbor’s house on the corner. When she got over to his house, he put on a porno movie and made a move on her. She left immediately, rushing home to her apartment. My brain was lit up with what ifs. What if she’d lashed out at him? What if she was a former mob wife, now a widow, who had felt protected her whole life but no longer had that sense of safety? My brain went there because the apartment she now lived in, the same one I had grown up in, was where the gangster Gaspipe Casso lived for years. What if, on top of that, she was intensely lonely, estranged from her daughter and granddaughter? That’s how Rena Ruggiero came to be.

The character of Lacey Wolfstein grew out of my desire to explore someone who was the polar opposite of Rena in so many ways: someone who had depended on friendship her whole life, someone who had lived hand to mouth, who had flown by the seat of her pants, who had been daring and wild and who could teach Rena to see the world in new ways. I’d always been fascinated by adult film star Lisa De Leeuw, who faded into obscurity and then disappeared, the legend being that she’d used dying of AIDS as a cover to assume a new identity and exist off the grid. I wanted to imagine an alternate history for someone like her, someone who had struggled after being spit out by the adult film industry and then thrived.    

MPS: The thing that sets them apart from most crime fiction heroines is that they are over fifty. What did you want to explore with women of that age?

WB: I love noir about older characters. Louis Malle’s Atlantic City comes to mind. One of my favorite lines in all of cinema is when Burt Lancaster’s Lou looks out and says, “You should’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean back then.” It allows you to do reflection and nostalgia in a different way, to really dig deep with regret. I wanted to explore the mythology of New York City from the perspective of women who know how to survive.

MPS: Your first two novels were a bit more somber. Did you set out to write something funnier?

WB: I like depressing stuff a lot, but I wanted to write something more in line with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys or Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob and Something Wild. Those films are main go-tos, and they bring me a lot of joy when I’m feeling unsure of things. So, yeah, I wanted to write something that—to me, anyway—was funny. I just didn’t know if it’d be funny to other people.

MPS: What I like about the humor in the book is that it plays to the characters instead of the other way around and it is grounded in some very harsh realities in these people’s lives. Can you tell us how you approach humor with the people you write about?

WB: Thanks! That’s a great compliment. I don’t know if I really have an approach of any kind. There’s a lot of humor in the way people talk to each other, for sure. That comes from people I’ve known, my grandparents, my mother, all this drama in the little things. My mom’s not generally a very funny person (I love her, but that’s just not who she is), but one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard is when a light bulb blew out in her kitchen and she said, “Nothing ever works out.” I laughed my ass off. My grandfather and grandmother were both hilarious. As a teenager, there was nothing I enjoyed more than coming home and have my grandfather recap what he’d watched on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that morning: “Mr. Rogers took us to the crayon factory today,” or whatever. My grandmother was just fun and lighthearted, even when she was worried as hell. I think much of my sense of humor comes from them, this kind of mix of pessimism and joy.   

MPS: Was there a particular reason to set the story in the early two thousands?

WB: Part of the book is set in a Bronx neighborhood where I lived for a couple of years. My wife’s family is all from there. We moved there in 2006. So, for practical reasons, I thought it’d be good to set the book in 2006 since I haven’t been back to that neighborhood since we left in 2008. It’s also a time when not everyone had cell phones yet (I got my first flip phone late in 2006), so I was glad not to have to account for that and still exist a bit in what was left of the old city: getting lost with no map, needing a payphone, whatever. The city’s changed so much in the last thirteen years. It had already started before then, but things really amped up by the late aughts.    

MPS: Your mobster characters have a great feel of authenticity. How do you approach them?

WB: I was really fascinated with mobsters as a kid. Of course, I loved Scorsese movies. I read and watched anything I could get my hands on. I listened to neighborhood stories. As I was writing this book, I reread Jimmy Breslin’s The Good Rat to get me in the right head space. But, ultimately, I was just making stuff up, having fun, building off of the sorts of legends I’ve heard my whole life.

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH GREG ILES

Greg Iles, the bestselling author of the Natchez Burning trilogy, returns with a new novel, Cemetery Road, about friendship, betrayal, and shattering secrets that threaten to destroy a small Mississippi town.

I was captivated by the Natchez Burning trilogy with deep characters, a fascinating protagonist in Penn Cage, lots of plot twists and an interesting exploration and investigation of white supremacists in the south in the past and present.

For this new book the main character is Marshall McEwan. He vowed never to return to his hometown after leaving at 18. The trauma that led to his departure won him journalism praise. As a former reporter I approve of Iles’s descriptions of journalism in this and other books.

But now events in McEwan’s hometown have conspired to make him return: His father is dying, his mother is struggling to keep the family newspaper from going under, crime rates are high, to name a few.

Mr. Iles, the author of 16 books and a novella, was kind enough to let us interview him by email for his new book, which comes out today.  He worked for several years as a guitarist, singer and songwriter in the band Frankly Scarlet. He quit the band after he got married and started writing his first novella. He, along with Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and others, is a member of the literary musical group The Rock Bottom Remainders.

Cemetery Road: A Novel Cover ImageScott: Where or how did this story come to you?

Greg: Cemetery Road actually grew out of the shocking secret revealed at the novel’s conclusion.  I don’t want to say more than that, but the core of my novels is always psychological and emotional, rather than depending on the externalized structure or details.

Scott: How would you describe your protagonist, Marshall, and his struggle in this book?

Greg: He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington, D.C. journalist, who is forced to leave his career at its height to return to the small Mississippi town where he was raised.  Because of a bad relationship with his father, he swore he would never go back. But when his father is dying, he must return to run the family newspaper until it can be sold.  This is what throws him into contact with the corrupt group of men who run the town, much as their ancestors had since the Civil War. To his surprise, the crimes he uncovered there stretch all the way back to Washington, D.C.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Greg: That much of what we see around us in life is dictated by knowledge that remains hidden.  At bottom, this is a book about secrets between parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings.

Scott: Did it feel weird to be doing a book other than Penn Cage after your amazing trilogy?

Greg: It was actually a relief after the ten-year struggle that it took to produce the trilogy, which ended up exceeding two thousand pages.

Scott: I really enjoyed your three volume trilogy set in Natchez, Miss., which I only recently learned you wrote while recovering from a terrible car accident. What did the folks of Natchez, the city where you grew up and now live, feel about your portrayal of it?

Greg: A critic once wrote that I do my hometown the backhanded compliment of setting my novels there.  In general, the people of Natchez have been great about what I have written. That may be partly because the novels have ended up generating a fair amount of tourism for the city.

Scott: When does your next Penn Cage book come out and what’s it about? I read you said there was still more you wanted to write about Penn Cage. Will we found out what that means in that book?

Greg: A lot of readers were a bit disturbed by the fate of Tom Cage at the end of the trilogy.  I always intended to return and deal with the rest of Tom’s thread. The Fates aren’t quite finished with Penn and Tom, and I think readers will be glad to learn that.

Scott: I have read that you long avoided writing series. What changed your mind on that?

Greg: Nothing changed my mind.  The first Penn Cage was intended to be a standalone.  Seven years later I wrote Turning Angel, thinking it would be the last.  Seven years after that, Penn tapped me on the shoulder, and the Devil’s Punchbowl was the result.  And when I decided to deal with the Ku Klux Klan in Louisiana and Mississippi, Penn and Tom Cage turned out to be the ideal characters to do that.

Scott: As a Southern writer do you feel an obligation to tackle the mythology and stereotypes about the south?

Greg: Yes.

Scott: How does your work as a musician affect or help you as a writer?

Greg: As a musician and a songwriter, you learn a great deal about the rhythm of language and develop the ability to say a lot with very few words.  I write very long books, but I can hit readers in the solar plexus when I need to.

Scott: What is the status of the films being adapted from your books?

Greg: There has been a lot of interest all along, and some abortive deals made, but nothing is headed into production at this moment.

Scott: What are you working on next?

Greg: I’m working on at least three other things.  I don’t want to give away what they are, but they are all very different from each other.  There is one more Penn Cage novel to come. A lot of readers were unhappy with where Penn’s father ended up at the end of the last novel.  So that will come, but it’s unlikely to be the next novel.

INTERVIEW WITH DON WINSLOW

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog #3) Cover ImageDon Winslow delivers a conclusion to his epic trilogy at our war on drugs and it’s effect with Mexico with The Border. It puts DEA agent Art Keller as the director of the agency, devising a sting to strike at the cartel’s money and that could involve a presidential candidate, as well as dealing with the cartel wars that have risen to fill the vacuum created by the death of his nemesis Adan Berrera. This is a story told on a large canvas with several major characters, looking at every side of the narcotics epidemic. Mr. Winslow was kind enough to take a few questions from MysteryPeople about it.

1.Since this was never planned as a trilogy, what brought you back to the drug wars for a third time?

Boy, if I really knew the answer to that question, I might not have written the book. Because, you know, as you alluded to in your question, I swore that the second book that was it, I was done. The problem was, the story wasn’t done. We were looking the worst violence in Mexico since they started keeping track, the heroin epidemic here in the US, the immigration issue . . . there was just more to talk about, and, as in the first two books, I thought I had something to say about them through the medium of crime fiction. Also, if I’m being really honest, I somehow knew that I wasn’t through with the main character, Art Keller, that he had to come to some kind of reckoning with himself.

  1. While the title is The Border, this is the book in the trilogy that spends the most time in the United States. What lead the story in that direction?

I’ve long and often said that the ‘Mexican Drug Problem’ isn’t the Mexican Drug Problem but the American Drug Problem. We’re the consumers, we’re the ones funding the cartels and fueling the violence. That truth dictated that the story come home. As I mentioned above, I wanted to write about the heroin epidemic—to, yes, explain its Mexican connection—but also to describe it in personal terms. I also wanted to write about the current political environment here. It’s too easy to point the finger at corruption in Mexico, but we don’t look at corruption here at home.

  1. This is the first time you follow some addicts as main characters. Was there something that spurred that on?

Sadly, yes. I’ve been writing this story for over twenty years, and in the course of that I’ve come to develop a lot of relationships. Some were with addicts. You know that it’s rarely going to end well. (There are, there were, thank God, exceptions.) But that knowledge doesn’t really prepare you for their deaths. The ‘heroin epidemic’ is a headline, we talk a lot about numbers—and we should—but I wanted to get beneath the statistics and try to show the life of an addict from a personal level.  I hope I did that, I don’t know.

  1. Since you killed Adan Barrera in The Cartel and The Border deals with the players filling the vacuum, how did you go after this story without the obvious Cartel kingpin antagonist?

Well, that was the point. A big part of the real-life story I wanted to tell was what happened in the post-Chapo Guzman era, the chaos that ensued as the players were trying to figure out how to fill the vacuum. That was my literary challenge as well—could I make a cast of characters as compelling as a single ‘villain’? I also wanted to write about the next generation of narcos, who were very different people than their fathers.  These were kids who grew up amidst incredible wealth—how would they deal with adversity and conflict? You know, Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V are obviously great plays about a powerful king, but Henry VI, about what happens after his death, is more complex, in some ways more interesting.

  1. I sort of hate myself for enjoying Eddie Ruiz so much. His actions are horrible, but he’s smart, funny, and has an entertaining perspective on the life he has chose. How did you go about constructing him?

That’s funny, so do I. I always felt a little moral contempt for myself for enjoying writing the Eddie scenes so much.  You know, Eddie goes back to Cartel, and I wrote him in that way because I felt I had to bring an American perspective to bring American readers into the Mexican world of the cartels. He was sort of a tour guide. In The Border, I used him in that role—to guide us through the world of prisons, Mexican gangs, money laundering. He’s also a guy who crossed the border and came back again. Dante had to go to the Inferno, but he had to come back in order to tell us about it.

  1. After writing and researching the drug wars for over twenty years, what is your biggest take away of it?

That we need to end the War On Drugs, legalize drugs and treat them as the social health problem that they are. Every horror story you can tell me about drugs (and, believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of them personally) have happened while drugs were illegal. What we’re doing hasn’t worked, isn’t working—the drug problem is worse than ever, more Americans died last year from drugs than in car accidents—and will never work. We will never solve the drug problem on the production end, we can only attack it on the consumption end. But to do that is going to take some deep, serious soul-searching, and I don’t know if we’re ready for that kind of honesty.