FLIGHT OF THE FALCON: INTERVIEW WITH KEN BRUEN

Ken Bruen has created something that is not supposed to exist, a noir series hero. Since noir destroys the protagonist, he shouldn’t be around for another sequel. However, like his contemporaries Reed Farrel Coleman and Megan Abbott, he looks at noir deeper, with a poet’s eye. So after thirteen and right after the devastating Emerald Trilogy, Jack’s life is shattered. When hope of getting the pieces together happens, a killer who goes by the name of Silence enters his life to take what’s left. Ken was kind enough to answer some questions I had about the book, In the Galway Silence, and his character.

In the Galway Silence Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: In the Galway Silence is the first book after The Emerald Trilogy you wrote within the Jack Taylor series. How has has Jack’s time with Em affected him?

Ken Bruen: Jack’s time with Emerald has left him defeated in a whole new way, despite her actions, Em won a part of his grudging heart and it stole yet another part of his diminished soul to have to end her, in all ways, she left him bereft.

MPS: There is a theory that antagonist defines the protagonist. Silence is an unusual adversary. How do you see the way he goes after Jack?

KB: Terrific question. I believe it plays into the ‘ know thy enemy well lest you become him.’ I think the most interesting adversary are those who possess much of the same personality traits as the protagonist. Silence instinctively intuits that way to destroy Jack is to literally dismantle his whole life.

MPS: Both Silence and chess come up in the story, what did you want to explore with both of those?

KB: Chess is my endless preoccupation and trying to invent a tactic that hasn’t yet been tried, so Silence came from the dilemma of trying to invent a move that you don’t know how to counter as it has no previous form.

MPS: Children and parenting play a part in the book as well. What made you want to have Jack deal with those?

KB: Another fascinating question, I have been reading a lot about people who are made to feel less than if they have no children — Jack over the course of the series has been almost a parent, and even a surrogate one but lost them, he had a faint notion that if he had a child, he might yet be part redeemable and when the impossible happens and he has a child, he learns the harsh truth of the saying “More tears are shed over answered prayers.”

MPS: You have the current events that are going on as you are writing the books also going on in Jack’s background. Do you think the world of Trump and Brexit have affected Jack like they have everybody or does his personality take it in differently?

KB: Brexit and Trump endorse Jack’s view or rather confirm that the world is gone mad and these events and individuals ratify in his own noir sensibility that sometimes, the only recourse to such a world of awesome stupidity is a hurly and a bottle of Jameson and then, as you finally give up, it’s not the dove of peace that lights up your own personal sky but a predatory bird, the falcon, in the falcon Jack sees that in this broken world, a broken man might yet fly through a bird of prey, through indeed a darker sky but as Yeats said, amid the ‘Terrible beauty that is born’ and in this instance, that flies,(the falcon flies in the next Taylor book).

MPS: There’s times I think James Lee Burke, Reed Farrel Coleman, and you have a contest of who can make their series characters’ lives the worst. Do you see any limit to what you’d do to Jack?

KB: I have long been fascinated as to what it is that eventually breaks a man completely — not Hemingways’s theory of being strong in the broken places, in truth I have known since book six of the series exactly what would kill Jack in every sense, and I have tried to hint at the concept that it is not the major traumas that eventually destroy a man utterly but one tiny almost insignificant detail that proves literally to be the very last straw. This is shown at length in the new Jack I have finished, titled Galway Girl  and in the new book a falcon features darkly in the narrative

And is very much the ultimate chess piece/move I have searched for.

 

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Interview with Nancy Boyarsky on writing in the #metoo era & more

Liar Liar: A Nicole Graves Mystery (Nicole Graves Mysteries) Cover ImageFor her third mystery novel featuring protagonist Nicole Graves, Nancy Boyarsky has written an intriguing thriller that turns what could have been a predictable #metoo movement novel on its head.

In Liar Liar, Nicole is tasked with babysitting a witness who has accused a university’s star quarterback of rape. While the witness, Mary Ellen Barnes, has come off as squeaky clean in public, Graves quickly sees that things are not as they seem.

Soon Mary Ellen goes missing and Nicole, over the objections of her fiancé, gets increasingly in the middle of the case. And then a key figure in the story dies. What follows are twists and more twists.

Boyarsky coauthored Backroom Politics with her husband, journalist Bill Boyarsky, as well as several textbooks by herself on the justice system as well as writing articles of many publications.

She is currently working on her fourth mystery about Nicole in addition to a memoir about growing up in Oakland called Family Recipes for Gastroenteritis.

Scott: Where did this story come from and how did it develop?

Nancy: The plot of Liar Liar involves a rape trial that becomes a murder trial. The idea came to me long before #Metoo got rolling. I started thinking about it three or four years ago when a close friend of mine, who’s a private detective, told me about a rape case at a local college. She’d been hired by the college to interview everyone who had knowledge of the incident and write a report without drawing any conclusions. Normally, her cases are confidential, but someone leaked the report online, and Esquire ran an article about it. It involved two very drunk 19-year-olds, and the fallout from their encounter was pretty interesting. It got me thinking about how difficult it is to determine who’s the responsible party in a “she said, he said” situation.

Of course, I had to change all of the circumstances, since I wouldn’t have had a murder mystery without a dead body. In the real-life case, the parties seemed to be traumatized but no one died. I also changed the locale, setting the college in Malibu rather than in urban L.A.

Scott: How did you create and develop the protagonist, Nicole Graves, for this series?

Nancy: When I wrote the first book, The Swap, I wanted to create a main character who was smart, likeable, curious and doggedly persistent. I’ve read too many books featuring detectives who are emotionally damaged; it almost seems a requirement for this type of character. I wanted my heroine to be a normal, reasonably well-adjusted person. As I went through innumerable rewrites of The Swap, Nicole emerged.

Scott: How would you describe her?

Nancy: As I said, she’s smart, likeable, and doggedly persistent. She’s curious about the people she meets and wants to know everything about them, which is probably one of the traits made her become an investigator. She’s also petite and sweetly pretty with dimples. This bothers her. She feels that some people don’t take her seriously because of her looks. But sometimes it’s an advantage to people have underestimate you.

Most importantly, Nicole is a risk taker, and wants to make sure justice is served. She can’t bear standing by and watching when she knows someone has unjustly been accused of a crime or when the guilty party gets away, leaving an innocent person to take the blame. Oh, and she’s also a romantic. She’s has fallen in and out of love a few times during these stories.

Scott: In what ways are you like her? In what ways are you different from her?

Nancy: Well, I’m certainly not as brave as she is, and I wouldn’t call myself a risk taker. On the other hand, I do share her curiosity about people—what makes them tick, their secrets, their hopes and dreams. I share her desire to see justice done. I’m also petite and (while I don’t have dimples) have a benign appearance that sometimes makes people underestimate me.

Scott: I bet you thought about the #Metoo movement while writing this book in which a character accuses a well known person of rape. What are some thoughts you have about the movement?

Nancy: I’m a big supporter of #Metoo, and it was a lucky coincidence that Liar Liar was published as this movement was snowballing. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been harassed or sexually victimized at some point in her life. I can remember being a teenager walking down the street and getting cat calls from, for example, construction workers. This was embarrassing and upsetting. But so many much worse things happen to women on a daily basis. It’s good that women are able to come forward and confront abusers about what they’ve done. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to get carried away. For example, there was the woman who anonymously denounced the stand-up comic Aziz Ansari for what many would call a bad date. I thought that was going too far.

In Liar Liar, the story the victim tells is not really what happened. She has been sexually victimized and exploited, just not in the way she says. And the man who’s wrongly accused isn’t completely innocent. But cases like this rarely happen. I believe the vast majority of victims are telling the truth. According to the National Institute of Justice, most rapes, attempted rapes, and other sexual assaults are never reported. Why not? The institute referred to a study that gave a number of reasons: self blame, shame, fear of the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, and lack of trust in the justice system.

Scott: So this is the third in your series — should readers start with the first book or is it okay to start with this one?

Nancy: You don’t have to start with the first one at all. Each book stands on its own. If anything happens that refers back to an event in one of the earlier books, I give a brief explanation.

I wrote the first book, The Swap, as a stand-alone; I had no intention of basing a series on Nicole Graves. When it was done, I’d left a lot hanging in the air. By this time, Nicole seemed almost real to me. I started wondering what would happen to her next. As I thought about it, my second book, The Bequest, began to take shape.

Scott: I understand at one point you were the associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer magazine. Did that help with writing about lawyers in this book?

Nancy: One of things I always had to offer employers was my ability to translate legalize and legislative language into plain, simple terms that the average reader could understand. So, I guess my experience with L.A. Lawyer helped me out there. I did the same kind of work at ARCO, where I was director of communications for political affairs for many years, mostly writing about legislative proposals that affected the oil industry. But my main resource for the workings of the justice system in Liar Liar was my brother-in-law, Jeff Boyarsky, who is a newly retired criminal-defense attorney. I was always asking him questions about what would happen before and during the trials in the book.

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

Nancy: I hope they’ll be entertained and that the book will take them out of their world for a while. It would also be good if the book could enlighten them a bit about the legal process and what participants in such trials go through.

Scott: How did you research this book?

Nancy: For quick facts, for example how a particular gun would behave in Nicole’s hands, I used Google. The internet makes this kind of research very easy. In the dark ages before the web, I was a freelance writer. To get information, I had to make a lot of phone calls, spend time in libraries, become an expert at using The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature and looking at newspaper microfilms. Yikes! That was a lot of work.

For Nicole’s adventures, I have two main experts I rely on—my lawyer brother-in-law and my friend who’s a private detective. They answer questions as I go along and read the manuscript when it’s done.

Scott: How far out have you planned this series?

Nancy: Not at all. I’m just finishing up Book 4, The Ransom, which is due at my publishers on January 10th and will be released next September. I’m thinking that book 5 should take Nicole to Europe. Maybe London again, which was the setting of The Swap.  I know the city pretty well from our visits there. Or maybe Italy or France. I don’t even plan the book I’m working on advance. I just develop it as I go along. While preoccupied with that, it’s impossible to think about what will be in the next book.

 

SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH ALAFAIR BURKE

You Don't Own Me (An Under Suspicion Novel) Cover ImageMary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke have joined forces again for a new book in their Under Suspicion series, You Don’t Own Me.

Longtime mystery writer Clark has joined with younger writer Burke in this series about television producer Laurie Moron who has a television show to solve murders.

With this latest book, Laurie Moran is trying to solve a celebrity doctor’s murder while a mysterious person stalks her. The doctor’s wife, Kendra, is the one under suspicion and acting strangely. The show is her chance to explain herself… and hopefully find the real killer, if it’s not her.

I previously interviewed both writers for The Cinderella Murder, the first in the series. This time I was lucky enough to be able to interview Alafair, who was written some excellent novels on her own.

Scott Butki: How did the story for You Don’t Own Me come together? Was it an idea you had or Mary had?

Alafair Burke: We came up with every aspect of this book together.  We talked through various character and plot ideas we had been playing with individually and wove them together into a single story.

Scott: How would you describe the character, Kendra, who is initially seen as possibly being responsible for the death of her husband?

Alafair: I think Kendra Bell is one of the strongest characters that Mary and I have created together.  She put aside her own promising medical career to be a wife to her successful husband, Martin, and a mother to their two children, only to have her seemingly perfect marriage unravel and then to become the leading suspect in Martin’s murder.  She’s sympathetic and likable in many ways, but flawed enough that she might just be guilty. Without giving away the “who done it,” I’ll say that I think most readers will come away thinking she’s more complicated than first meets the eye.

Scott: How do you and Mary divide up the work on the series you are writing together? Do you write alternating chapters or one has big ideas and the other figures out the smaller details?

Alafair: Neither one of us outlines our own solo books, so we have to change things up when we work together.  What really helps is that we both find plot through character. We talk through every single character — who are they, what’s their backstory, what are their biggest fears and secrets, what’s their journey during the book?  The characters lead us to the plot. Only when we think we have it all do we begin writing, and we start with a synopsis that contains every element of the book. That’s a document we pass back and forth until we basically know the book.  One of us then sketches out a first draft, which we pass back and forth to flesh out. That’s the best I can do to explain the process, but we work together seamlessly at this point. I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

Scott: How do you divide up your work on your own novels versus these done on collaboration? For example, I’ve heard of writers listening to different music for one series versus another?  Do you avoid work on your own books when working with Mary?

Alafair: No, I don’t have any of those kinds of rituals.  Maybe it’s an old habit from lawyering, but I can work on multiple projects at once, though I certainly prefer to be doing the deep work on one while editing or tweaking another.  But the work needs to get done, and that’s the priority.

Scott: How did you and Mary go about researching this book?

Alfair: Most of it takes place in downtown Manhattan, which is my neighborhood, so I like to say that all the hours I spend walking around constitute research.  I don’t love actual research, so fortunately, this book didn’t require much. I think Mary and I are both in the habit of writing from what we know.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this story and others in your series?

Alafair: I got hooked on crime fiction through long-running series characters, especially strong female characters like Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton), VI Warshawski (Sara Paretsky), Sharon McCone (Marcia Muller), Kat Colorado (Karen Kajewski), and Irene Kelly.  I’d like to think that Laurie Moran could hang with that crowd. She’s also surrounded by a rich supporting cast, both at home and work. A good series book is like a visit from an old friend, and I hope readers feel that way about Laurie and her gang.

Scott: Last time I talked to you, in December 2014, you were really into Serial. What crime-related programming are you currently into?

Alafair: I have been cyberstalking a few actual cases myself, but am not deeply into any true-crime programming right now.  I am counting down the days, though, for a podcast Michael Connelly is creating called Murder Book. It’s starting in January.

And though it’s not true crime, I just binged the hell out of Ozark and am about to start (finally) Killing Eve.

Scott: Looking back, was the jump from prosecutor to criminal law professor and novelist a big change or more of a natural progression?

The Better Sister: A Novel Cover ImageAlafair: It all felt normal to me, but I’m sort of a weirdo.  I’ve been both a professor and a novelist for fifteen years. It’s hard to imagine not doing both.

Scott: How long do you see this collaboration going?

Alafair: As long as readers will have us!

Scott: What are you working on next?

Alafair: My book, The Better Sister, will be out on April 16, and I’m working on the screenplay for The Wife.

 

INTERVIEW WITH C.M. WENDELBOE

C.M. Wendelboe is a western writer, no matter what genre he writes. A veteran of decades of law enforcement in Wyoming and the Dakotas his books show an understanding of the land and its people while delivering a well crafted and highly entertaining tale. In his latest to feature Arn Anderson, a retired Denver cop turned hired consultant for one of the city’s news stations, we have Arn also doing detail as as stock detective tracking down sheep rustlers. When he stumbles upon a murder he realizes “The Midnight Shepard” may have witnessed it. We talked to Mr. Wendelboe about Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler, how his writing is tied to his former profession, and the western life.

Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler (Bitter Wind Mystery #2) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Part of the plot deals with the crime of sheep rustling. Is that more common than most people think?

C.M. Wendelboe: Sheep rustling is still a common problem here in the west, as is cattle rustling. With sheep thefts, it is as I describe it in Hunting the Saturday Night Strangler where a trained dog can herd enough sheep to fill a small trailer (usually 25-30 head) and the rustler gone from the pasture within ten minutes.

MPS: What did tying the two mysteries of the killer and the “Midnight Shepard” allow you to do?

CMW: It allowed me to establish a continuity and a sense of purpose to Arn. Since he retired from the Denver Metro Detective Division, he has done what many retired lawmen have done after they hang up their shield—nothing except sit around watching soaps and drinking beer. Suddenly, the consulting gigs that Ana Maria snagged for Arn give him direction once again. He can use what has been his defining trait as an investigator—the ability to look at things from, first a broad perspective, and narrowing his thinking down into a laser-like focus to solve the cases.

MPS: As in the first book, you occasionally have a chapter from the killer’s point of view. How difficult is that to do without tipping the reader off?

CMW: I have wanted to use the killer’s perspective for some years now. When I was a law officer, I interviewed numerous genuine psychopaths and sociopaths, and each time I came away with the same perspective—they were highly intelligent killers whose intellect eventually were their downfall. To a man (and one woman) I talked with, each thought they were too clever—either because they were inherently intelligent—or that they were too ruthless to drop their guard.

Those chapters were the most difficult in the book because I am unlike the killer, and because it would be so easy to slip up. Of course the last thing I wished to do—aside from the foreshadowing—was give the reader too much information where he or she could solve the identity of the murderer before I was ready to reveal it.

MPS: One thing I like about Arn is that he is an older protagonist. What are some advantages in writing a hero with a few years on him?        

CMW: Arn is a lot like I was in my law enforcement career: the older I became, the more time I took to process things. This wasn’t due to a slowing of the mind, but rather an awareness that I missed many clues, many insights as I rushed headlong to find the answers. As an older character, Arn has grown out of the “puppy lawman” phase and thinks things through logically. Even though it takes him more time to do so.

MPS: Like Craig Johnson, you mainly give a sense of place through its people. What did you want to get across about the citizens of Cheyenne?

CMW: This series has a western flavor to it. Apart from Frontier Days (“The Daddy of ‘em All” rodeo), people here still live the western lifestyle even though most rarely set a horse or participate in brandings. But there are enough things in the community to point to the western heritage and makeup of the town, from the daily wagon and carriage rides seen on the streets in the summer to the lesser rodeos held nearly year-round to the abundance of large cattle and sheep herds within minutes from city center. A person can still see doors opened for others and women escorted away from curbside and men tipping their hats when introduced to strangers. But strangers not for long as the western hospitality will shine through.

MPS: You also have a new western with Tucker Ashley. What can you tell us about that?

CMW: I developed Tucker Ashley in the true sense of what folks think of the buffalo hunter/part time army scout/gunfighter. But I also wanted to showcase his abilities as a man tracker. Folks often assume that every frontiersman was track-savvy with the abilities to follow a gnat across choppy water. This was not so back in the day. Tales are full of men who misread sign and wound up lost or hundreds of miles off their presumed destination. Competent trackers back then were sought out, as they are today.

MPS: You will be calling in to our Murder In The Afternoon Book Club on November 19th for your discussion of your first Bitter Wind Novel, Hunting The Five Point Killer. Is there anything we can’t ask?

CMW: Sky’s the limit. Look forward to it.

 

Interview With Timothy Hallinan

Today marks the release of Nighttownthe latest book from Timothy Hallinan. He was nice enough to answer our questions about the new book and his other work.

Nighttown (A Junior Bender Mystery #7) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: This is a unique plot even by Junior Bender standard. How did it come about?  

Timothy Hallinan: It arrived in three pieces and (since I’m not a writer who plans a lot) they were put together on the fly. First, a reviewer for a publishing trade said about the last Junior book, Fields Where They Lay, that, as far as Christmas mysteries were concerned, “it was one of the very best since The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I hadn’t read that Sherlock Holmes story, but when I did I found myself liking the idea of the huge, stolen precious stone. Second, I’d been thinking a lot about the bum rap darkness usually gets – ever since the King James Bible (at least), it’s been equated with evil and misery. I mean, talk about stacking the deck: God’s first line is “Let there be light.”

Junior is a burglar, and he likes darkness; he sort of thinks of it as his personal ZIP code. I decided I wanted to put him someplace that was too dark even for him. Out of that came the second piece, Horton House, an empty, condemned mansion that practically vibrates with malice. Third, it came to me that the man who built the house had been a Spiritualist, a member of the quasi-religion that swept the world in the years of global mourning after tens of millions of people died in the twin calamities of World War One and the Spanish Flu, and I remembered that the world’s best-known advocate for Spiritualism was Arthur Conan Doyle. I thought it was interesting that Doyle–the creator of fiction’s most remorselessly logical detective–was the voice of Spiritualism and that his opposite number, speaking out against it, was the magician Harry Houdini. (I would have expected it to be the other way around.) Those three things, the stone, the old dark house, and the Spiritualism-Doyle connection, became the basis of the story, although the way they were woven together seems a lot more logical now that I’ve finished the book than it did when I was writing it.

MPS: You’ve looked at the different sides of Los Angeles in the series. what side of it did you want to explore in this book?

TH: Of all the world’s great cities, Los Angeles has the briefest past, and it’s relentlessly paved over most of the past it does have. Many of its most beautiful buildings have been bulldozed to make way for Walmarts and shopping malls. I’ve always found it interesting that it’s such a present-tense town, so I  thought it would be fun to set much of the action in a little bit of the past that’s due for demolition. I also wanted some of the story’s characters to be people whose personal pasts were being forgotten or erased: a once-powerful movie producer; an actress from a forgotten sitcom; a woman whose only inheritance was being withheld by someone who hated her. All crime novels, I think, look into the past to some degree, even if it’s only the recent past in which the crime was committed, but I wanted to play around with deeper past, especially since L.A. has so little of it.

MPS: One of the things I love about the Junior Bender series are his partners in crime. Is there one in particular that you enjoy writing for?

TH: The one for whom I feel the most affection is probably Louie the Lost, the getaway driver with no sense of direction who had to change careers after the word got out that he couldn’t tell the difference between north and up. I could write Louie all month long and spend most of the time laughing. There are also a couple of female hitters I like, including one who always unscrews her silencer when she finishes a job because it snags on the lining of her purse. And there’s a new character in Nighttown, an absolutely lethal woman named Itsy Winkle, who lives in a house full of stuffed cats and who just stole every scene she was in.

MPS: There is a great tip of the hat to The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. What do you admire about those stories?

TH: This is probably going to cost me lots and lots of readers, but at the time I decided to write Nighttown I had never read a word of Doyle, and now that I’m done writing it, I’ve read only one story, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I know Holmes and Watson mostly through film and television, and I have to say that the one I like best is probably Benedict Cumberbatch. I admire the story I read, but I can’t honestly claim that it beckons me back to read more. On the other hand, I love some of the Holmes-inspired detective twosomes, most notably Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodman.

MPS: As a writer, what makes Junior Bender a character worth coming back to?

TH: It’s largely the way Junior, who is at heart an average middle-class guy, interacts with the darkness of the world he’s chosen. There have been a couple of attempts to turn the books into a TV series, and what went wrong was that they focused on the jokes and downplayed the menace. One doesn’t work without the other. I think what makes these books funny (if they are) is that there’s actually quite a bit of life-or-death interaction going on in the foreground, and it’s not just slapstick: people can really get killed. Even less bang-bang scenes, like the one with Laney Profitt, the former TV star, and Jake Whelan, once the most powerful producer in Hollywood, now both lost (at least temporarily) to dope, work because that little tragedy is seen through Junior’s eyes as he tries in self defense to keep it, emotionally, at arm’s length. It’s not funny (I think) unless it’s serious, and often it’s most serious because it’s funny. Junior copes with the world he’s chosen, in part, by distancing himself from it, by seeing its funny side. That alone makes him interesting to write.

 

A Conversation with DCI Elaine Hope from A R Ashworth’s Elaine Hope Series

Thanks to author A.R. Ashworth for writing this guest blog post, a conversation with his character DCI Elaine Hope. Ashworth will be in the store Friday, November 2nd at 7pm.

Two Faced: An Elaine Hope Mystery Cover ImageDetective Chief Inspector Elaine Hope runs a Murder Investigation Team in the London Metropolitan Police Service. A.R. Ashworth has written two thrillers about Elaine’s cases: Souls of Men and Two Faced. He’s currently working on the third novel in the series. In early October he sat down for a conversation with Elaine. True to form, she took control almost from the start.

A.R. Ashworth: Thanks for making time, Elaine. I know you’re busy with a new case.

Elaine Hope: I am, but I owe you. You invented me. This won’t take long, will it?

AA: It shouldn’t, but with you I never know. Tell me why—

EH: I bet your readers wonder why you’re writing about me. Maybe because I’m so patient and charming. Or maybe because I’m six feet tall and I don’t give rat’s a—sorry, I forget about tender American sensibilities—I don’t give a rat’s bum about how glamourous I look.

AA: I’m certain that’s not why I write about you.

EH: Not bloody likely. It’s because I’m good at catching killers.

AA: Bingo.

EH: You live in Texas but your stories are set in London. You’re a man, writing about a woman. From what bourbon-soaked, cob-webbed corner of your brain did you conjure me?

AA: Some days I wonder that, too. You’re asking me to explain myself. I don’t think I need to; my stories stand on their own. But here’s a synopsis. I’ve spent a lot of time in London, been to the locations in the books, drank in the pubs. Besides a few mystery writers and some barmen, my Brit friends include two retired Met detectives. I got hooked on Dorothy Sayers back in the ‘70s because her writing was richer and deeper than Christie or Marsh. I’ve loved the darker British-style mysteries ever since. And female authors write about male protagonists all the time.

EH: Sayers. You once told me I have a bit of Harriet Vane in me—that I don’t need a man in my life, but I’ll listen if he makes a good case. I fight the male establishment but I’m not Jane Tennyson in so many ways.

AA: I wasn’t thinking of them when I created you. Maybe Harriet Vane a little, with Peter. But as I got to know you, I saw a few similarities. You’re gritty, strong, assertive, but never a bitch. You can be vulnerable, but never a victim. You evolve and learn on-the-fly. You never back down.

EH: You can tie a ribbon ‘round that. What were you thinking, making Peter the protagonist in the first draft of Souls of Men? I’m glad we had that talk.

AA: We? You did all the talking. I nodded and rewrote it, didn’t I?

EH: You admitted it. Peter’s a helluva guy, but it was me you turned loose on the Srecko brothers. Reviewers said Souls of Men was a strong, smart debut. Gritty, dark, satisfying. You can thank me for that. I don’t tolerate violence against women, and you dumped me right in the middle of those toerags. Talk about gritty and dark. One reviewer compared me to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. She said we’ve both seen the worst. You were damn hard on me.

AA: That was Karen Keefe from Booklist. You handled it.

EH: Yeah, the world’s full of surprises, innit? It changed my life. In Two Faced I was set on revenge, running a rogue investigation, screwed up with PTSD. Thanks for Fiona. She’s even more messed up than me, but she’s the friend I need. Barefoot Woman. That was a hoot.

AA: I gave you Peter, too. How’s that going?

EH: I miss the hell out of him. Long-distance affairs are hard, even without a six-hour time difference. He plays Sam Cooke songs to me when we Skype, so I think we’re solid. I just hope he won’t go ballistic when he hears—

AA: Stop! We agreed no spoilers. Can you tell me something about your current case?

EH: The one you’re calling If I Can’t Have You. I’m back from compassionate leave, running a murder investigation team, up to my eyeballs in—say, can you give me a hint about who wants to kill Tessa? Didn’t think so. And I’m dealing with that other, erm, possibly ballistic situation. I have a lot on my plate.

AA: You’re a London cop.

EH: I couldn’t be anything else. People need justice. Need the Met. Need me. Time to get back to the nick. You’ll see me tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got scenes to write.

AA: Yes, we do. See you then.

Interview with Martin Limón

BookPeople made The Line, Martin Limón’s latest mystery with Ernie Bascome and George Sueno, two U.S. Army cops stationed in early seventies Korea, our October Pick Of The Month.  It starts with the two called to a murder scene on the demarcation bridge between North and South Korea that leads into a mystery involving the South Koreans that work for the U.S. Army. While trying to find the real killer when an innocent G.I. is locked up, they also have to locate the missing wife an officer. Martin was kind enough to give us some in-depth answers to some questions about the book, the series, and the state of both Koreas. Martin Limón joins us Friday, November 2 at 7pm to talk about the book with author A.R. Ashworth and Scott Montgomery.

The Line (A Sergeants Sueño and Bascom Novel #13) Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: The Line has one of the best openings of the year.  How did it come about?

Martin Limón: I’ve been to the Joint Security Area (JSA) a few times, starting in 1968.  It’s always been an intense place and there have been more than a few skirmishes over the years.  One of them, the August, 1976 axe murder incident, resulted in two U.S. soldiers being hacked to death by North Korean guards.  Ironically, the JSA is also called “the truce village of Panmunjom.”

At some point it occurred to me that this would be a good place to set a murder.  Of course, I knew who would be going up there to examine the crime scene, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom.  Then all I had to do was decide who would be murdered, what time of day they would be going up there, etc.  Once I had all that I decided to place the corpse right on the most contested spot in the world—the Military Demarcation Line—and imagined what would happen.  Not difficult. There would be an armed standoff; the North Koreans on one side, the U.S. on the other. Sort of a difficult setting for detectives to exam a crime scene but, undaunted, our boys take up the challenge.

MPS: You have George and Ernie work both a murder and a missing person case.  How did you deal with the challenge of two mysteries?

ML: I like plots and subplots, both as a reader and when I’m writing my own stories.  The challenge is to get them to blend together in some way that’s (hopefully) believable and, more importantly, for their essences to somehow complement one another.  In this case I had the Korean Noh family, who had suffered the grievous loss of their son, in the main plot and the American Cresthill family, experiencing the anguish of marital breakup, in the other.  I hope the two stories worked well together. I was actually contemplating a third subplot; that of the Korean-American lawyer, Corrine Fitch, searching for her birth mother. But it was too much for my meager intellect to work out.  Instead, it remained implied but not fleshed out.

MPS: I felt this book looks at women in both Korean and Army society.  What did you want to explore with the female characters?

ML: Military spouses and other family members often feel isolated.  Sometimes physically, as at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert where the nearest town is forty miles away.  Or at 8th Army headquarters in Seoul. Even though the 8th Army Yongsan Compound sat in the heart of a city of over 10 million souls, that city was South Korea’s capital and a teeming Asian metropolis if there ever was one.  Some of the Americans on base felt as if they were floating on a small raft atop a churning sea. And the military expects those family members (which they call dependents), and especially the wives, to follow a precise and lengthy list of unwritten rules.  Don’t ever dare embarrass your husband, number one. Accompany him to the many and varied command social events where you must smile, smile, smile. Volunteer your time to charities specified by the spouse of the commanding general. Some women rebel, by turning inward.  Others act out. I’ve seen it and it is sometimes not pretty, but always very human.

With Corrine Fitch I had the ambition (probably not realized) of depicting the ambivalence of someone returning to the country of their birth but being fundamentally a stranger.  What must that be like? What questions must arise? I didn’t take that part of the story as far as it needed to go but it still intrigues me.

MPS: How would you describe George and Ernie’s relationship with the Army?

ML: Love/Hate.

What George loves about the army is that it gives him a sense of purpose.  A job with a very specific aim: to solve crime and rescue the innocent.

What Ernie loves about the army is that it encourages him to replace heroin addiction with the perfectly acceptable alternative of alcoholism.  As a bonus, the pomposity of the army brass gives him a world of blowhards to rebel against.

What George hates about the army is their overwhelming bureaucratic desire to cover up any and all bad news.  Especially crime.

What Ernie hates about the army is they make him wear a hat, which he believes is a plot to cut him off from the universe.

MPS: Your latest books have been some of your best.  What has experience lent to your work?

ML: When I started writing, over 30 years ago, I realized immediately that this was a craft or sullen art (to quote Dylan Thomas) in which I would always keep learning—and never master.  I do think my books and short stories are a little better now, mainly because of the help of editors and agents and critics and even the occasional reader. Reader complaints, of which I’ve had some which were extremely bitter, feel like a hot needle shoved into a raw nerve.  However, I crave them. First, it proves that the person read and cared about my work. Second, it gives me a chance to evaluate the criticism and decide whether or not it is valid. Usually, it is. And once that needle sinks into tender flesh, I can never forget it. And the next time, when a similar case arises, I’m prepared to do better.

MPS: North and South Korea have been in the news even more.  What should people in the U.S. know about the culture?

ML: Someone asked me if I wrote The Line because the North Korean crisis is so much in the news lately.  The fact of the matter is that I conceived and wrote the first draft long before Donald Trump ever made his fire and fury or little rocket man comments.  In fact, back then when I started no one imagined he’d ever become president.

Since 1953 the Korean DMZ has always been in crisis.  In January 1968 a North Korean commando unit unsuccessfully attacked the Blue House, the South Korean version of our White House.  In the same month, the North Korean navy committed an act of war by boarding and commandeering the USS Pueblo on the high seas. They held the American crew in a brutal captivity for almost a year.  In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121 US Navy reconnaissance plane, immediately killing 31 sailors. And there have been plenty of violations since then. South Korean military deaths, at least back in those days, were common and many of them went unreported in the international press.  The US Army averaged about one American death at North Korean hands per year.

Now these friendly fellows have the bomb.  I, for one, don’t believe they’ll ever give it up. No matter how many bows and handshakes our president provides.

Culturally, on both sides of the border, the desire for Korean reunification is great, and it’s the official policy of both governments.  From what I’ve read, Kim Jong-un’s goal in life is to reunify the peninsula under his regime. To him, mutual nuclear disarmament means that the US would withdraw our troops from South Korea and remove the South Koreans from the protection of our nuclear umbrella.  Once that happened, I believe, he’d feel free to start bullying the South Koreans and use political and military pressure to gain his aims. He knows that if he did manage to reunify Korea, even under such a brutal totalitarian state as the one he now runs, his place in Korean history as a great hero would be assured.