Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Q & A with Christopher G. Moore

Q: What makes Vincent Calvino different from other PIs?
The cultural and political dimensions of the Calvino series. Vincent Calvino is an investigator living in Thailand. He’s an outsider. And through his eyes the day-to-day realities of a non-Western legal system unfolds. It is one thing to take a holiday to an exotic place; it is another to investigate murder and other crimes in a foreign land and in a foreign language. You might think you understand the crime, but you need to find the local language to express the consequences of what follows, how the players are exposed, caught, tried (or not), and what that means emotionally for those caught up in the system. The series has been published since 1992 and in the nine novels to date, the reader finds a chronicle of fairness, justice, and transparency in Southeast Asia.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
“Psycho” and “sidekicks” are clich├ęs. Any novel peppered with stand in characters that are “types” or “categories” should come with illustrations. Hopefully we haven’t passed beyond the minimal expectation that a novel contains an attempt at originality of character, story and plot.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I only need open a local newspaper, walk out the door, and I live in Bangkok, a city of 12 million people. I need a wall around me to keep from being buried in research. It helps if an author is receptive, then the inspiration and information, like water, finds a way to seep through. Call it research; call it paying attention to what is closely observed. The contemporary ambiance is tapped out in many places or is so derivative, a recycling of other similar locations so the story becomes indistinguishable from any other book. The most essential research is finding a country and city rich in history, intrigue, and culture that has not served as a platform for a private eye series. Years ago, an agent in New York came to me with a suggestion for Spirit House. Why not change Bangkok to Boston, a publisher had suggested. And I wrote back (pre-Internet days) and leave everything else the same?

How did you get published?
An agent submitted my first novel His Lordship’s Arsenal to a New York publisher on a Friday in 1985. On Monday, he phoned to say it had been sold. Nothing since has ever been that easy or straightforward since.

Q: What’s next for you and Vincent?
The 10th novel titled Paying Back Jack in the Vincent Calvino series comes out next year. My publisher Atlantic Monthly Press (US) and Atlantic books (UK) will have it out in Autumn 2009. Meanwhile, there is a film option on the Calvino series. Keanu Reeves is slated to star as Vincent Calvino. The schedule calls for the shooting to begin in 2009. Whether the complicated structure that organically must first come together actually occurs is another question altogether.

Q: How do you promote your books?
The last promotion was a deal between Grove/Atlantic and Amazon. Spirit House was offered as a free download for two weeks. Thanks to the Internet, living in Thailand, is not longer a problem. Between email and Skype giving an interview the distance is no longer relevant. Critics and reviewers are never more than a few strokes on the keyboard away. I also occasionally blog:

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?A few books that I like might fit the bill: Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Paul Theroux’s Saint Jack, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Paco Ignacio Taibo’s The Shadow of The Shadow, Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, and Georges Simenon’s Dirty Snow.

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 jazz musician might be influenced by Charlie Parker or Miles Davies. But ultimately when he climbs on stage, the audience wants to hear him play. Not Bird or Miles Davies. The same idea applies to novels and novelists and their relationship with readers. Readers want to hear your voice as the writer, otherwise they’d buy and read Hammett, Chandler and the others. Writers, as a group, are more likely to be influenced by drugs or alcohol than other writers. And basically such influences are never good for a long career in music or literature. A writer’s must discover his/her own voice. That’s the instrument, and until it’s found no amount of other influences will be sufficient to fill the void.

Q: Tony Black came up with the following question: 'Does film influence your work?'
I watch films to understand the structure. I like noir such as In Bruges (a brilliant film) and more mainstream movies as the Crash, Babel, The Mexican, 28 Days, 12 Monkeys, and The Cooler. So far I’ve resisted using a number in the title of my books.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
(‘When does an author of PI series decide to bring the series to a final end?) The Calvino series will end when I feel I no longer have anything original to contribute to the ongoing debate about the direction (and speed) of change in the political, cultural and social institutions found in South East Asia. So far it is a bumpy, unpaved road. One day, like everywhere else, it will be a modern expressway. Meanwhile, Calvino continues to take cases from those falling into the uncovered manholes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Speak of the Devil (Fitz Malone) by Richard Hawke

I thought this one was going to be a new favourite… I was wrong. Fitz Malone, son of a former police commissioner steps in to fight a shooter during the Thanksgiving Parade. It draws him into the police investigation of a blackmailing mastermind called The Nightmare.
Fitz never came alive much to me and neither did his girlfriend. His psycho sidekick Jingles gets some nice lines but seems to pop up out of nowhere and disappears in the same way. The plot was a bit too much James Patterson for me and although Fitz is a PI his working for the police made him too much of a cop to really make use of his profession.
Luckily the surprises and twists in the ending make up for a lot of my qualms, but still it left me disappointed. Hope the next one is better.

Dirty South (Nick Travers) by Ace Atkins

I am really sorry Ace Atkins has not been giving us new stories featuring blues historian Nick Travers. This last novel in the series is a good example why. The atmosphere is fantastic and Nick a tough but very human kind of character. The feeling of the novel is very ‘modern’ while it still has that good old hardboiled flavour we all love.
Both the blues world and the rap world are described very vividly as Nick tries to help out an old friend, now rap producer who owes a dangerous man a lot of money. Too bad his newest, 15-year old star (a fantastic character!) was just conned out of a lot of cash himself. People get killed, Nick’s life is threatened, shady characters show up and mysteries are solved. Great stuff!
As good as Ace’s newest more literate novels might be I still hope he’ll be returning to Nick soon.

The Last Striptease (Joe Kozmarski) by Michael Wiley

Michael serves up some classic PI-fiction in this one! Joe Kozmarski is one of those alcoholic ex-cops with a past to make up for. He’s enlisted by a judge who wants him to prove his assistant is innocent of murdering a Vietnamese girl. Apparently she used to be kind of a wild child but that’s nothing compared to her trigger-happy brothers with who Joe tangles along the way. On the personal side he has a nephew to take care off, an ex-wife to get together with and his feelings for a female cop to deal with.
What makes this book a winner is not the fairly standard plot or characters but the fantastic pacing. At 245 pages, not too many subplots or characters and plenty of action you’ll be sure to be reading it in one go. The ending satisfies and still makes you want to read the next book.
With so many 500+ page books with an endless number of plots and way too many characters these days I loved reading something like this. All in all a solid debut, which earned it a Shamus nomination!