Friday, October 29, 2010

Q & A with Bruce DeSilva

Bruce DeSilva
I'm really happy to be interviewing Bruce DeSilva, author of Rogue Island, because, believe me, you'll be hearing a lot about this guy!

Q: What makes Liam Mulligan different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Real private investigators aren’t much like fictional ones. The real ones spend most of their time delivering summonses in civil cases, locating child-support delinquents, investigating pilfering from warehouses, checking the validity of insurance claims, and doing background checks on job applicants. They rarely investigate violent crimes. Most of the so-called “unofficial” fictional PIs are even more divorced from reality—so much so that they exceed my ability to suspend disbelief. I could never write, and will not read, books in which crimes are solved by hairdressers, dentists, or cats. My character, Liam Mulligan is an investigative reporter—one of the few occupations outside of law enforcement that really does investigate serious wrongdoing. Oddly, there are very few crime novels about investigative reporters. (Gregory McDonald’s just-for-laughs Fletch novels come to mind, along with Bryan Gruley’s two recent books about a reporter in a rural Michigan town.) So Mulligan’s profession alone make him unusual. Better still, he’s a throwback—an old-time street reporter hell-bent on discovering the truth at any cost. He’s a dinosaur in the age of sound bites and biased reporting. And finally, he works not for a TV network or web site but for a newspaper that, like most American newspapers, is dying. This adds an additional layer of tension to the story, the character never sure how long he’ll have a job and always in despair about the demise of newspapers. It also makes the novel a lyrical tribute to the vanishing business Mulligan and I both love.

Q: How did you come up with the character Liam Mulligan?
Mulligan is me—except that he’s 24 years younger, six inches taller, and quicker with a quip. He’s an investigative reporter; I used to be. He doesn’t do well with authority; I do worse. He’s got a smart mouth; I get a lot of complaints about the same thing. He and I both have a strong but shifting sense of justice that leads us to cut corners and work with bad people to bring worse people down.

Q: What's next for you and Mulligan?
The second novel in the series, tentatively titled “Cliff Walk,” is nearly finished. All of the characters from the first book return—except for the ones who got bumped off. Like the first book, this one too is set in Rhode Island. The story involves the two extremes of America’s smallest state—Newport high society and the (until very recently) legal brothel business there. Meanwhile, I’m already planning the third and fourth books in the series.

Q: Can you tell us something about how your debut novel came to be?
It all started back in 1994, when I was working for a Connecticut newspaper. One day, I received a note from a reader praising “a nice little story” I’d written. “It could serve as the outline for a novel,” the note said. “Have you considered this?” I would have tossed the note in the trash except for one thing. It was from Evan Hunter, who wrote literary novels under his own name and the brilliant 87th Precinct police procedurals under the penname Ed McBain. I sealed the note in plastic, taped it to my home computer, and started writing. At the time, I lived 15 minutes from work, so I got up early every morning and wrote for two hours before going in. I was a mere 20,000 words into the novel when my life turned upside down. I took a very demanding new job; my new commute was 90 minute each way; I got divorced and then remarried to a woman with a young child. In this busy new life, I had no time to finish a novel. Years streaked by. Each time I bought a new computer, I taped that note from Hunter to it, hoping I would get back to the book someday. Meanwhile, I was reviewing novels on the side for The Associated Press and The New York Times book review section. That gave me entre to the Manhattan’s literary circle. A couple of years ago, I found myself dining with Otto Penzler, the dean of American’s crime fiction editors, and happened to mention that long-ago note from Hunter.

“Evan Hunter was a good friend of mine,” Penzler said. “In all the years I knew him, he never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote. He REALLY sent you that note?”

“He really did,” I said. “I still have it.”

“Well then you’ve got to finish that novel,” Otto said, “and when you do, you have to let me read it.”

So I went home and started writing again. I wrote at night after work and all day every Saturday; and six months later, the book was finished.

Q: What are your thoughts on ebooks as a reader AND a writer?
I don’t own a digital book reader, but I plan on getting one when the price drops, as it always does with electronic gizmos. As a reader, like the convenience, although I suspect I’ll always prefer the feel of a physical book in my hands. As a writer, I’m in favor of anything that encourages people to read.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I don’t regard either of them as psychotic. They, and other characters like them, have clearly defined codes of ethics and personal behavior. Those codes may be unconventional, but the characters adhere to them rigorously. Hawk, for example, believes in living life well and on his own terms, without regard for the rules of society. He believes in being self-sufficient, staying fit, and watching out for his few close friends. Like most such characters, he is fiercely loyal—something a psychotic could never be. I‘d love to be able to count on a friend like Hawk if I were ever in a pinch. That said, what the creators of Hawk and Joe Pike (Robert B. Parker and Robert Crais) are doing is playing around with a theme that has been repeated endlessly in American fiction—the relationship between the hero and one of society’s outcasts. This goes all the way back to Natty Bumppo and his Indian companion Chingachgook in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels. I’m playing around with the theme myself, although my hero’s sidekick is a different sort of outcast. He’s not a drunk or an ex-con or a member of a racial minority group. He’s a privileged young man with a big trust fund—the sort of person those of us who grew up poor or middle class tend to resent or even despise.

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 influenced you?
I discovered crime fiction by reading Raymond Chandler in my teens, and he remains a major influence. I reread “The Big Sleep,” “Farewell My Lovely,” and “The Long Goodbye,” every year or two. As for current crime novelists, I’m a great admirer of Daniel Woodrell and Thomas H. Cook, two brilliant writers who succeed at everything except making the best-seller lists. James Lee Burke, Kate Atkinson and Ken Bruen have written paragraphs that take my breath away. I love Ace Atkins’ remarkable historical crime novels and James Ellroy’s staccato, high-on-amphetamines prose. To name a few. But the fact is, I’m influenced by everything I read including the bad stuff that teaches me what NOT to do. That said, the opening passage of John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row” is my favorite in all of English.

Q: Jay Faerber came up with the following question: First person or third person?
Both have their charms. The one you choose depends on which best serves the story you are telling. My first two novels are written in first person, the main character narrating the story. The next book in the series, which I hope to begin writing later this year, will probably be written in the third person limited, the story told from the points of view of three different characters.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is
your answer?

How important is sense of place in your novel, and in the books you most enjoy reading?
The most memorable crime stories transport you to interesting places and let you hear, see and smell them. It is difficult to imagine Ken Bruen’s best novels set anywhere but in his native Galway, Ireland, or Daniel Woodrell’s work set anywhere but in the Ozarks. Read James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels and you have been to New Iberia, LA, even if you’ve never left your house. As my friend Thomas H. Cook once said, “If you want to understand the importance of place, imagine ‘Heart of Darkness’ without the river.” One of the places I know best is Providence, RI. Unlike big, anonymous cities like New York, where many fine crime novels are set, Providence is so small that it’s claustrophobic. Almost everybody you see on the street knows your name, and it’s almost impossible to keep a secret. Yet it’s big enough to be both cosmopolitan and rife with urban problems. And its history of corruption, which goes all the way back to a colonial governor dining with Captain Kidd, makes it an ideal setting for crime fiction. I made Providence not just the setting but something akin to a major character, in “Rogue Island.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mississippi Vivian (Ted Stephens) by Bill Crider & Clyde Wilson

Situating this novel in the seventies makes sure it's not possible for the PI-character to get out a cellphone and call for help. It also makes sure there's less forensics and computers to help him out. The result: a classic PI novel where the hero rides into town to set things right and leaves after having done his work.
Ted Stephens investigates an insurance scam in a small town. After a slower start, detailing his investigation people are out to either kill him or kick his butt. This is where things start to heat up and the reading becomes more interesting.
Ted is a nice character. He loves his wife and is totally faithful to her. He has a good sense of humour but knows it's not always appreciated. The story is easy to follow, the page count is low, making it an enjoyable and quick read.
The fact a real life PI (Clyde Wilson) was involved in writing the book gives it a nice authentic feel, especially at the start of the book.

Voyeur (Remer) by Daniel Judson

In this authentic piece of noir we are introduced to Remer, an ex-PI who now runs a liquor store. When he's asked to investigate the case of missing ex-love Mia he has to face his past. We find out why he quit the PI-business and through that just how tough and dark a character he can be.
Helping him out are some PI-friends and cops that make sure there's some forensic tidbits to go along with the noir story. There's a lot of twists and turns as Remer delves deeper into the secrets of Mia and her family.
The story is written with a lot of style and a real piece of noir. Some people mistake PI-fiction for noir. In this case it's okay to do that.

Shamus Award Winners

The Shamus Award winners are known...

Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: Locked In, by Marcia Muller (Grand Central)

Also nominated: The Silent Hour, by Michael Koryta (Minotaur); Where the Dead Lay, by David Levien (Doubleday); Schemers, by Bill Pronzini (Forge); My Soul to Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (William Morrow)

Best First P.I. Novel: Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Loser’s Town, by Daniel Depp (Simon & Schuster); The Last Gig, by Norman Green (Minotaur); The Good Son, by Russel D. McLean (Minotaur); Chinatown Angel, by A.E. Roman (Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Sinner’s Ball, by Ira Berkowitz (Three Rivers Press)

Also nominated: Dark Side of the Morgue, by Raymond Benson (Leisure); Red Blooded Murder, by Laura Caldwell (Mira); Vengeance Road, by Rick Mofina (Mira); Body Blows, by Marc Strange (Dundurn)

Best P.I. Short Story: “Julius Katz,” by Dave Zeltserman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2009)

Also nominated: “The Dark Island,” by Brendan DuBois (from Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane; Akashic); “Deadline Edition,” by S.L. Franklin (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2009); “Blazin’ on Broadway,” by Gary Phillips (from Phoenix Noir, edited by Patrick Millikin; Akashic); “Suicide Bonds,” by Tim L. Williams (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2009)

Lifetime Achievement Award: Robert Crais

Hammer Award for Best Character: Marcia Muller’s series private eye, Sharon McCone

I haven't read the winners in the categories Best Hardcover and Best First Novel yet, so I intend to do so soon. One of my personal favorites won the Best Paperback.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Post: How The Demon’s Parchment Was Created by Jeri Westerson

I suppose I’d first have to talk about the whole “Medieval Noir” thing. When I set out to write a medieval mystery, I didn’t want the same sort of amateur sleuth monk or nun pastiche. I wanted a hard-boiled detective like I found in my favorite Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler novels. And because those storylines tend to be a little darker, I dubbed it “Medieval Noir” as my own little subgenre. Now why did I want a hard-boiled detective in a medieval setting? Well, for one, no one was doing it and you should always write what you can’t find out there to read, so they say. I also thought it would be tremendously cool to merge my two literary loves, that of the medieval mystery and the hard-boiled crime novel.
I found that it works really well.
What could be better than taking Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, his white knight with his own code of honor and justice, and make my own character a real knight? Well, ex-knight. See, here’s the thing. I studied the typical hard-boiled detective and found that they had a few things in common. They were loners, they usually had some sort of chip on their shoulder, they had a lot of run-ins with the cops, and they had their own code of justice.
Oh yeah. And they were always distracted by some dame.
So Crispin Guest, my ex-knight turned PI, embodied all those tropes. He was once a knight, a lord of his own manor, when he threw in his lot with a conspiracy to put the stately duke of Lancaster on the throne instead of his ten-year-old nephew, Richard. Richard was crowned and the conspirators were all found and executed. But when it came time to dole out Crispin's fate, the duke of Lancaster, Crispin's beloved mentor, pleaded for his life. His life was granted but everything else was forfeit and he found himself penniless, stripped of his rank and his status, and set adrift on the streets of London. Eventually, he reinvented himself as the Tracker, the equivalent of a medieval private eye, working for sixpence a day…plus expenses.
It seems I like to involve my characters in murder and something else to occupy them, and so each book also involves a religious relic or some otherworldly object. In book one, VEIL OF LIES, it was the facecloth of Christ, the Mandyllon. In book two, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, Crispin must deal with the Crown of Thorns. And in my latest, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, we go a step further and involve Crispin in missing pages of the Kabbalah which might have released a terrifying Golem on the streets of London.
In THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, I particularly wanted to explore the plight of medieval Jews. In England, they had been exiled in 1290, almost a hundred years prior to the action of this story, and I got to imbue Crispin with realistic prejudices of the time. It’s refreshing writing something in your beloved characters that you are opposed to, but it’s also interesting trying to change their mind while keeping it true to the time period.
I usually start with a relic, or in this case, the Golem, and build my story from there. The Kabbalah has, in the last few years, become the spiritual darling of the rich and famous, but with just some cursory research, I could tell that it constituted far more than a pop diva’s diversion. Needless to say, those who say they ascribed to it didn’t have the least idea what they were talking about.
To write historical, it goes without saying that there will be research involved. Usually quite a bit, and so it is naturally something I enjoy doing, else this would be a tedious exercise. I started with the legend of golems and then the Kabbalah, and decided that I would make this a serial killer story, taking my storyline from the rather bizare life of a real medieval serial killer, who lived one hundred years later than Crispin. Then I added more characters, more red herrings, more diversions for Crispin, and in this one, a most unusual femme fatale. It’s simply a matter of laying layer upon layer—a George Seurat painting, blotting stratums of dots of paint on a canvas before standing back to see the whole, clear image.
You can read a first chapter of THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT at Jeri’s website

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New sites to follow

There's two cool new sites for you to follow...
Wayne Dundee, creator of Joe Hannibal has joined the blogosphere, take a look at If you like my blog you'll be interested in that one as well.
Then there's The Crime Of It All (, a cool site covering everything that's crime. It's also got a "Best Oneliner" section that reminds me of the Weekly Wisecrack I used to run on this blog. Cool stuff.

The Taking of Libbie, SD (Rush Mckenzie) by David Housewright

Reading a new Rush McKenzie novel always feels like getting back in touch with an old friend to me. He may be filthy rich and at times can be quite the hardass, most of the time McKenzie is a likable character you can relate to.
In this novel he's taken from his home by a couple of bounty-hunters, resulting in quite an exciting opening chapter. Interestingly enough, Daniel Judson's new novel (Voyeur, expect a review on this site soon) also starts off with the hero being tasered. In the old days PI's just had to worry about brass knuckles.
It turns out the bounty-hunters were after Rush because someone has been impersonating him and conning the people of Libbie, SD out of their money. After it is clear to the people from Libbie that Rush is not the man who conned them he decides to track down the imposter. During his search he fights bullies, discovers that Libbie has a lot of good looking women and in the end of course, solves several mysteries.
Another very enjoyable installment in this series.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Q & A with Jay Faerber

This time I interview someone special. Jay Faerber is a comic book writer and has one comic book on his name featuring a PI (Webster Dodge). As a fan of his comic books I thought it would be interesting to learn about his views on the genre.

Q: What makes Webster Dodge different from other (unofficial) PIs?I think one of the things that makes him different is that he doesn'treally want to be a PI. He has dreams of being a rock star, but he'sactually quite good at detective work. It's his only marketable skill,so he's forced to do it as a "day job," so to speak. I think that's different than most PIs, unofficial or otherwise, who rarely get paid and who hold down other jobs to support their investigative work. WithDodge, it's the opposite. He'd quit the PI gig in a heartbeat if he could make money with his music.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
I approached Dodge like I approach my super-hero work -- I tried to find a new angle on the classic genre. I wanted Dodge to be the rumbled, lone private eye who gets beat up a lot and has anantagonistic relationship with the cops. So I was able to do all that,but the whole "struggling musician" thing gave it a fresh spin. Ofcourse, I'm far from the first person to combine music and mysteries.I'm not making that claim. But I think the way I approached it withDodge is fairly unique.

Q: How do your favorite novelists influence your superhero comics?
That's hard to pin down, since it's not something that has a direct correlation. Robert B. Parker was the first author I really followed,and I think I learned a lot of my dialogue approach from him. That's been a huge influence. Lately, I follow Stephen J. Cannell, Lee Child,and Robert Crais, and I love their plotting. I work really hard atgiving my stories -- whether they be super-hero or mystery -- solid,well-crafted plots, and I think all of the novelists that I followhave helped inspire me in that regard.

Q: Will we see Webster return?
I really don't know. It's been over five years since DODGE'S BULLETS and it wasn't really a commercial success so it's tough to do more. > But it's not out of the question, in some form or another. I've > written a short story featuring the character, but haven't done > anything with it yet.

Q: What are you working on now and what will you be working on soon?
My main work is DYNAMO 5, my Image super-hero series. We're currently in the middle of a 5-issue mini-series that ends in October. Then we've got a Holiday one-shot coming out in December, then another mini-series sometime in 2011. Besides that, I've got a new Image crime series that I'm slowly working on, which we hope to debut in mid-2011, plus another Image crime/horror/romance mini-series that will also
hopefully launch in 2011. So next year should be a big year for me.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Well, as usual, a bunch of imitators have distorted the original. Hawk, the first modern "sidekick" (although I'm sure he'd take issue with that term) of his kind is a true original. And while Joe Pike kinda started out as a bit of a Hawk-type guy, he's really grown into his own "leading man" status. I mean, there have already been two Joe Pike novels, with a third on the way. I'm curious if we'll see any
more Elvis Cole-focused novels, or if Crais is having too much fun letting Pike take center stage. And I don't grant the premise that either of these guys are
"psychotic," but I know what you're getting at: the 90's craze of having every new PI with a colorful "sidekick" with some extreme character traits. I read a piece by Lee Child where he talked about his creation of Jack Reacher, and he basically created Reacher as the "sidekick." When you think about it, Reacher has all the colorful traits the 90s-era sidekicks have: he's huge, violent, and all that.
But he's the star of the books. And I think that's a great observation and a great approach, on Child's part.

Q: You are influenced by the recently departed (screen)writer Stephen J. Cannell. What's so great about his work and how has he inspired you?
I just think Cannell's great. I love so many of his old TV shows, and his novels are, for the most part, really good, too. I'm a sucker for a good high concept, and his old shows all have great high concepts, great premises, and great characters. While I love a good plot, character always trumps plot. I can take a bad plot populated by great characters, but a great plot with bad characters? Much, much harder to take. And Cannell's great a creating engaging, interesting, fun to
follow characters.

Q: What are your favorite Stephen J. Cannell shows?
My top three would have to be The Rockford Files, Wiseguy, and The Greatest American Hero. And just look at those three shows -- they're so diverse, with such different premises, tones, even genres. And yet all really groundbreaking, original pieces of work.

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?

Well, I'm not as well-read as a lot of mystery fans. I'm really particular about the kind of prose I like to read. I find a lot of it really overwritten. So I'm sure there are authors who are huge that I'm just not familiar with. However, I think Crais and Child are really going to influence the next generation. They've got great,
iconic characters who are engaged in interesting plots.

Q: Bill Crider came up with the following question: Hammett or Chandler?Chandler.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your

First person or third person? I don't really have a set answer, but I know some people are very passionate about this subject. I kind of waffle. There was a time when I found it hard to read anything that wasn't first person. I was just really drawn to that approach. But now I can see the advantages to both, and as a writer, I tend to prefer to the third person. With first person, it's a little too easy for the
character to merely sound like me, rather than a CHARACTER.