Q: What makes Max Mingus different from other fictional private eyes?
A:Max is a reluctant good guy, barely staying on the right course, forever threatening to veer off in the opposite direction. He’s taken the law into his own hands and those hands have become bloody as a result. And he’s paid a very real price for his transgression; his dance with darkness hasn’t come cheap.
In Mr Clarinet Max doesn’t actually want to be a detective anymore. In fact, legally speaking, he isn’t one because he lost his licence and much else after he got sent to prison for voluntary manslaughter.
In King of Swords – the prequel to Mr Clarinet – Max is questioning why he’s a cop.
Q: You're from England but decided to set your series in the USA and Haiti. Why?
A: All sorts of reasons. Reading fiction is primarily about escapism. And writing is a form of escapism too. At least for me it is.
I have very strong ties with the US, both literally, because I have plenty pf family out there, mostly in and around Miami, and figuratively because most of my core influences – books, film and music are American. The first film I ever saw and loved was Peckinpah’s The Getaway with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. My mother took me to see it in Haiti when I was six.
On top of that, I know Haiti very well. My mother’s Haitian and I spent the first four years of my life there, being raised by grandparents. I returned to the country many times between 1970 and 1997.
And I probably know Miami better than I know London. I certainly prefer it. All things going to plan, and my wife agreeing, I’d like to move there.
Q: Who would play Max, Chantelle and Joe in a movie?
A: No idea.
Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?
A: The music of Barry Adamson. Barry’s probably the only musician I can think of whose albums actually sound like crime novels read, a kind of multi-layered, dark pulp funk. Incredibly cinematic too. He’s written for David Lynch (Lost Highway) and Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers). If Miles Davis or Charles Mingus were still alive, they’d probably be making music very very similar to Barry’s – a real cross-pollination of genres underpinned by some very black and bleak humour.
I listened to quite a bit of vintage disco when I was writing King of Swords.
I belatedly realized that the disco genre was invented in Germany not New York.
I listen to jazz too. Lots and lots of jazz. Last summer I was playing a lot of free/avant garde jazz – Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra.
Something else that’s great to write to is Lou Reed’s Hudson Wind Meditations. On the outside it’s a series of smooth drones, but it’s incredibly easy to concentrate and focus on what you’re doing when it’s playing because the music blocks out all external sound.
My friend Stav Sherez actually made a CD of music which featured in his superb debut novel The Devil’s Playground (set in Amsterdam, and a cracking and very very disturbing read, which I can’t recommend enough), which he gave out with his book at the Vegas Boucheron a couple of years ago.
Sorry, I got off track.
Q: Has your writing changed much between the novels?
A: Yes and no. I wrote Mr Clarinet without knowing if I was going to find a publisher, so I was basically writing for myself and my wife, who read the book as it was progressing, a chapter at a time – poor thing. My wife then told me the chapters were too long and forced me to read The Da Vinci Code, not for the quality of the prose, but for the pacing. She’s an accountant and thus has a deductive, highly analytical and methodical mind. She worked out that – subject matter aside - the book worked because the chapters were short enough to read in a single sitting. So I cut the chapters down. And King of Swords has shorter chapters and snappier pacing.
After Mr Clarinet came out I suddenly found I had an audience. I met a few readers who told me what they liked and didn’t like about the book, which was very useful to know. So, I’ve basically written King of Swords with a specific public in mind – everyone who read and liked Mr Clarinet.
I went from basically writing for myself to writing for an audience, which means that I had more discipline, and I think you’ll notice that evolution in King of Swords.
Q: What's next for you and or Max?
A:I’m currently outlining my next book, which isn’t a Max Mingus book. It’s a standalone noir thriller set in modern Miami. Like King of Swords it’s another multi-layered narrative.
Depending on how I feel when I’ve finished it, there may or may not be another Max Mingus novel. Mr Clarinet wasn’t a standalone book. It always had a prequel, which is King of Swords, but the Mingus story was meant to end with his trip to Haiti in 1996. In fact, my original ending had Max back in the house he shared with his late wife in Miami, looking at his huge pile of money, spotting his wedding photo and weeping. No way forward. I changed it before it got submitted to publishers to the ending you have now. The original ending was too drawn out.
Max was never meant to be a series character – at least not to me - and if I do write another book with him in it, it will definitely be the last. At the moment though I just have this recurring vision of Roger Moore in his last Bond film, sucking his stomach in during the action sequences and wheezing up flights of stairs. If I still have that vision at the end of the next book, Max is staying in Miami, retired, with his nightmares, his guilt and his millions.
But if I can find a convincing way to get him out on a final tour of duty and mayhem, I will.
I will write a series soon-ish, but of that more in about three books …
Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: You didn’t mention Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. He’s one of my favourites. And then there’s Walter Moseley’s Easy Rawlins.
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, MacDonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
A: Richard Price, Don Winslow, Charles Willeford, Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain and James Ellroy are my touchstones. You can’t really go wrong with any of them. They’ve all pretty much written inimitable books, and they’re always worth reading and re-reading. Ellroy’s LA Quartet pretty much reinvented the genre, I think, both in terms of style and presentation, as well as the things he wrote about, the blurring of morality, the lack of too many sympathetic characters – especially the male ones. That certainly impacted on me. And then Don Winslow’s Power of the Dog hit my creative cortex like a flaming meteorite. I was both exhilarated and depressed when I finished it. Exhilarated because I’d read a masterpiece and depressed because I knew I’d never be able to do anything remotely as good … although I got exhilarated again after that, at the thought of trying ….
I think all writers of series should read Lee Child. In fact, I’ll re-read all the Reacher books before I start mine. Lee manages to combine great stories with superlative, intelligent writing. I think Lee Child will be someone who’ll have the longevity of a McBain and Elmore Leonard. And I also suspect that Ken Bruen will hit that terrain too. He’s the Hemingway of crime fiction, I reckon – both as a stylist, and also because he’s walked the walk (not that Hemingway really walked half as far as he claimed to have, but you get my drift). And then there’s Jason Starr who’s a cross between Hubert Selby in Demon mode, Brett Easton Ellis and Robert Bloch.
Q: Michael Koryta (author of the Lincoln Perry novels) came up with the following question: What writer outside the genre would you most like to see write a PI novel?
A: Andrew Holmes, author of 64 Clarke, a London based demi-thriller about a child kidnapping, its protagonists and antagonists. It’s a remarkable book with a really Dickensian insight into lowlifes. Plus it’s also very very very funny.
Salman Rushdie – sorry, Sir Salman Rushdie – would do some very interesting things with the genre, I reckon, like Umberto Eco did with In The Name of the Rose.
Neil Cross – author of Always The Sun and Mr In-Between.
Q: What question should be asked every PI writer we interview and what would be your answer to it?
A: My question would be: Why is crime fiction still considered the poor relative at the literary table?
My answer is an unprintable, libelous, licentious, expletive strewn ramble which includes references to watching paint drying on a puddle, calculators and food mixers. I’d be interested to read someone’s cold and rational views on the topic.
For more information about this writer visit www.nickstone.co.uk