When did you discover crime fiction? Did it have the same amazing effect on you as it did me?
I remember the night well. I had just graduated college and was at the local (now closed) Borders looking for something to read. I had grown up on a steady diet of action/adventure and spy novels, but had lately grown tired of the formula and wanted to find something new. I had no idea what “new” would be, and it came in the form of a book called Cold Caller by Jason Starr. The book is about a telemarketer who murders his boss. I had worked through college as a telemarketer, and I had wanted to murder my boss countless times! He was a skinny four-eyed weasel exiled to our office from the corporate headquarters in Texas (ie, the Lone Star State couldn’t stand him!) and he wasn’t so much a hard task master as he was annoying. While we were on the phones, he’d always shout out mini “pep talks” that were distracting, generic, and irritating—especially when we were trying to sell stuff. If I had murdered him and had to explain my actions to a judge, I would have said, “Your Honor, he always yelled out ‘You’re a Super Star!’ or ‘It’s Time to Smile and Dial!’ at the top of his voice, in that twangy accent, and it finally made me snap.” The judge would have determined that no crime had been committed.
So I bought Starr’s book and took it home. I finished it in three days. For the first time, I had read a thriller featuring people I knew. Maybe I didn’t know them literally, but I knew people that were like the people in the book. I didn’t know people like the protagonist, and I suppose it should scare me that I identified with him so well, but don’t we all love Lou Ford? Of course we do!
It was a revelation. Up until then, I thought all fiction was made up of superheroes that in no way resembled the average person. Jason Starr proved otherwise.
Shortly after I went back to the (now closed) Borders and bought a whole stack of books which my buddy at the store called “a whirlwind tour through modern hard-boiled.” I hit the used bookstores, too, and my bookshelves overflowed. Spillane. Collins. Stark. Hammett. Leonard. McBain. Thompson. Goodis. Rabe. Brewer. Short story anthologies (RIP, Mr. Greenberg). A book called Bag Men by John Flood which brought tears to my eyes. I read everything by Lawrence Block that I could find. I found out Starr wasn’t the only one writing about people I recognized, and soon decided that I needed to quit writing about Bonds and Blondes and Bombs and write crime fiction.
My first foray into the world of hard-boiled crime was the just-published Bullet for One, which I wrote between 1999 and 2001. A very much Spillane-inspired private eye tale, it was a pulp potboiler that in no way resembled what I had envisioned. I was writing about my streets and my town but the characters were the usual superheroes that in no way resembled real people. A couple of rewrites put it into shape, but the market was so swamped with private eye novels that I didn’t think mine would make a dent. I threw it in a drawer and wrote other crime novels.
Ten years later…
I’m doing this Kindle thing, you see, and went through my archives to find out if there was anything that could be uploaded to Amazon. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Bullet for One is the most promising but it needs a good edit (if by ‘good edit’ you mean ‘I chopped 50 pages of worthless material’)”. I handed it to my editor and said, “Be ruthless. I wrote this when I was 25.” He came back a month later and said he liked it so much that he wanted to see a sequel.
My “good edit” and the effort made back in 2001 turned this pulp potboiler into a noir thriller about the futility of revenge. All of the usual characters are present, but portrayed, I am told, in a more realistic light than the usual pulp story. And while it may have been “easy” for Spillane and Hammer, I assure you that it is not easy for John Coburn. What happens in this book will follow him into the next. I guess that means I will write a sequel.
After ten years and a lot of sweat I am proud to make this novel available.
I hope you check it out and enjoy it.
And, by the way, if you have not had the pleasure, go read Cold Caller and John Flood’s Bag Men. They didn’t get the recognition I think they deserve, and you will be blown away. They are amazing books.