I have enjoyed reading Linda Richards’ Madeline Carter novels since she published Mad Money in 2004 which I loved as it is a fiendishly complex tale of corporate swindles, surreal glimpses into the world of the stock-trader. If you need a fast-paced and fun read Mad Money especially as Madeline Carter is a great protagonist. Linda then followed her debut with two more exciting Madeline Carter thrillers The Next Ex in 2005 and Calculated Loss in 2006.
The real treat however is her latest work which is the start of a fresh P.I. series set in the golden age that completely swept me away this month. Death is the other Woman features Katherine ‘Kitty’ Pangborn who works as a secretary for boozy and troubled Private Eye Dexter ‘Dex’ Theroux in depression hit Los Angeles; just after Wall Street crashed around them. The collapse of the stock-market claimed her wealthy industrialist father, a man who gave her financial security but not the emotional support she needed. Kitty suddenly finds herself losing the sheltered and privileged lifestyle she once enjoyed. She is haunted by her father’s suicide, never knowing her mother, she tries to pick up the pieces in her world now tumbled upside-down. Despite being nearly destitute, she is resourceful and strong in spirit and those traits are exactly what Dex needs in his life. The troubled P.I. is a former veteran of WW I, who looks at the world through the ridges of a whisky tumbler. Hints are made about why he drinks so much, but I am sure more will be revealed in further adventures; because this novel screams ‘series’, such is the gentle intensity of the narrative. Taking the familiar conventions that shaped the work of Chandler, Hammett and the like; Richards reshapes them from their genre-mould, creating a fresh outlook on the era we term the ‘golden age’.The writing is well researched, captivating, hard-boiled but with a compassionate eye that makes it impossible to escape the flow of the narrative. At times the book is heartbreaking, at times it’s fast and furious and at times perceptive about how people lie and deceive - but at all times it showcases brilliant storytelling.
Linda also manages the online resource January Magazine as well as contributing to Jeff Kingston Peirce’s - The Rap Sheet Blog, where you will also find me posting items of interest relating to the crime and thriller world.
As I enjoyed Death is the other Woman so much, I decided to ask Linda to tell as little about herself and her work, especially the low-down on her new character Kitty Pangborn.
Ali : Linda can you tell us a little about the books you read in your youth that you enjoyed and can still remember?
Linda : I remember devouring Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. I think the earliest of them were written a couple of decades before I was born, and they’re still in print. Wonderful books. Magical. Thinking about them now makes me want to reread them. Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty was another favourite. And Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka, which I believe is from the same period as The Black Stallion. Clearly, equines featured prominently in a lot of my early reading material! And though, if I remember correctly, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is completely horseless, I remember loving everything about it, as well. There are scenes from that book that still haunt me; that I still carry around.
Slightly older and I discovered serious historical fiction. James Clavell, Taylor Caldwell, and I had a long period of wanting to grow up to be James Michener. I still secretly do, in a way. What I loved about him: he would bring to life things that had previously seemed either boring or invisible. And I would often close one of his books and scurry off to research what I’d read. Also, he made me realize that everything is connected. That all of us – and all of time – have more in common than we might think. And that those commonalities can connect us more strongly than our differences force us apart.
Ali : Who do you feel gave you a love and fascination of the written word?
Linda : Though I have two half-siblings, both were a lot older and out of the house by the time I was born, so I was basically raised as an only child. And I was the child of my parent’s old age, so they really preferred it when I was quiet. Plus they were both big readers. I don’t ever remember a time when both of my parents weren’t investing some of their free time into reading for pleasure. I understood from a very early age that reading was a strong option for entertainment and we always had lots of books around.
Ali : So tell us how you set up January Magazine?
Linda : Come on, Ali: you have to suspect that’s a long story! But, OK: I’ll take a run at it.
In the mid-to late 1990s, I was mostly making my living writing and lecturing about Internet technologies. As a result, I had a lot of theories about success on the Web and what that would look like, but I needed a way to test them.
At the same time, my partner, David Middleton, and I had been interviewing authors for print. We’d both chat with them and I would do the writing, he’d photograph them. Often there would be lunch involved. We both loved it but the big limitation would be the editors I worked with. Quite often I’d pitch an author I wanted to interview, and an editor would say, Oh, no one cares about that person. And I knew that was not true. I felt sure that people cared about books and the people who made them.
Then there was the straw, you understand? The universe just conspired. We’d interviewed this really well known author of historical fiction for a metro daily newspaper. The author was delightful and had all these great anecdotes. I wrote a story of the 800 words allotted. David submitted his gorgeous photos. And it happened that – I don’t recall precisely – but some rock star broke his leg or ended up in therapy or something, and they cut my 800 word piece down to an impossibly spare 400. And, in that same piece, they used David’s photo badly. If I remember right they cropped it oddly, produced it too small and reproduced it too darkly. We’re perfectionists, David and I: our heads didn’t explode, but it felt very like that. We took that interview, and a few others that either hadn’t found homes or whose copyrights had reverted back to us, and we decided to create a magazine that was really initially intended to be an online showcase for our work, plus a testing ground for the aforementioned theories in Internet technologies. David is a graphic designer and illustrator as well as a photographer and we both just threw our talents at the project to sort of see what we’d come up with.
The site went online in November of 1997 and not long after we were named a Yahoo! site of the day, which at the time was a really big deal. It meant that – overnight – our traffic shot from the 50 or 100 visitors a day we’d been getting, if that, to something like 14,000. That tickled all my geeky tendencies, to be perfectly honest. I’ll just never forget that initial rush or the months I spent attempting to duplicate it: I wanted more!
So, OK: we had a measure of success. And others liked what we were building and asked if they could come and play, too. J. Kingston Pierce was one of the earliest of those and his influence and his direction forever altered January’s course. There was no crime fiction section early on. He created it and helmed it, right from the start.
Ali : Which authors have enjoyed interviewing and featuring at January?
In one way or another, I’ve enjoyed them all. And there have probably been over 200 thus far. So who stands out? I was hugely intimidated to meet Margaret Atwood, but found her really charming and thoughtful and so, so interesting. Salman Rushdie really surprised me. For some reason, all that fatwa stuff makes you think he’ll be sort of scary – all the years he spent in hiding and what not – but he was just lovely. And so funny! We just laughed and laughed. I really enjoyed Martin Amis. He was very thoughtful about his writing – very cognizant of the nuance of what he was creating. Clive Barker, Diane Ackerman, Dennis Lehane, Sara Paretsky, Terry Pratchett, Kazuo Ishiguro, so many others. All with so much to share!
Ali : Your first series features the resourceful Madeline Carter, so where did she come from?
Linda : In the earliest part of this decade I developed a passion for the stock market. (Peer pressure: it was 2000 and all my friends were doing it.) I had this period where I dabbled in day-trading. And I have a personality that’s faintly obsessive. When I develop a passion, I live it and breathe it and dream it for a while. It overcomes me. With the stock market, though, there are only a certain number of hours in a day when you can actually trade. (Unless you’re into the international markets, which I lacked – and still lack – the proficiency to tackle.) And I found myself one day, after the close of trade, with this huge store of passion and no place to put it. And I could suddenly see myself – only a finer, better, taller and more knowledgeable me – in Malibu, in the house where I used to live, looking out towards the ocean from her desk, but not actually seeing the waves, seeing instead the dance of the numbers and the rhythm of the market’s tide. And I just started to write. And I jammed out the first 7000 words of what would eventually become Mad Money all in one sitting. I thought it was a short story. I didn’t look at it again for about a year and when I did I said, Hey. I think this might be a book. And eventually it was.
Ali : So why did you decide on a change of pace after Calculated Loss, the third Madeline Carter novel?
Linda : I don’t think I did decide. As with Mad Money, Kitty Pangborn’s story was just suddenly there.
Ali : Death Was The Other Woman is a remarkable PI thriller set in 1930’s Los Angeles, so why this period?
Linda : Thanks for thinking it’s remarkable, Ali! That means a lot.
It had to be that period. I never considered any other. It’s 1931, so it’s just at the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Depression which creates a breeding ground for crime. On the one hand you’ve got the organized crime types getting fat running illegal booze – and all the stuff that goes with that – and you’ve got the hungry types who are turning to crime just because nothing else is working and their kids are crying with hunger.
Ali : Had you read much of the US golden age? And what PI fiction struck a resonance from the period?
Linda : I’ve read piles of it. I adore the stuff. Can’t get enough. You probably figured that. You might also have figured that Hammett’s work resonated especially. Though I find Chandler to be an elegant stylist, as well.
Ali : And Kitty Pangborn is such a wonderful character, the kind of woman I’d like to date……so how did you dream her up?
Linda : Wonderful. But I blush! Thank you.
But to answer your question, reading a lot of the most classic of the classic fiction of the type we now think of as noir you come across a lot of damaged, self-medicating men. I mean, they’re hitting the sauce first thing in the morning and forced to drive everywhere because they’re too drunk to walk. And in a bout of reading a whole lot of Hammet and Chandler, it occurred to me that it was simply not possible for most of these classic fictional PIs to be successfully doing the work they’re being hired to do. How could they, seriously? It seemed to me that they could probably barely find their way home, let alone the missing persons and errant husbands they get hired to locate.
At the same time, quite often there is a woman in the office, quietly doing her boss’s back up work: typing, answering the phones and so on. She’s always attractive, but never treated as a sexual object by her boss. Rather, she’s treated with a sort of uniform respect. And as I read and read and read some more, it struck me that – probably unbeknownst even to Hammett and Chandler themselves – these women were quite possibly running around after their boss, making sure the work got done so that their paychecks wouldn’t bounce: simple as that. And still I read and read until I saw the outlines of these women – and then one woman in particular. And I could see her hands even in the places where Hammett and Chandler had not placed them. Fixing this, repairing that and occasionally even running softly behind her boss, cleaning up his messes because, after all: times are hard. People are in breadlines. Even hard-working men can’t find the work they need in order to buy milk for their babies. And being a gumshoes’ secretary may not be the best job, but it is a job, at least, and thus must be protected.
So dreaming Kitty up was easy, in a sense. I don’t feel as though I had much at all to do with it. I could see who she was, plain as day. And from the way she acted, I could extrapolate her back story.
Ali : And the research?
Linda : Yes, right: and then the research. Lots of it, in one way. Hardly any at all in another. I’ll tell you what I mean.
So I had, I’ll just say it, I had this sort of vision, if you will. I could see this character, plain as day. I could see the office and the boss, Dexter J. Theroux, a nice enough guy – a decent guy – but a veteran of an ugly war – WW I – and damaged by his experiences there, as I suspect so many fictional PIs must have been, even if it’s never talked about: we can sense it in the men they’ve become. They’ve survived intact when so many of their friends did not. In one way, that’s an awful burden to carry around your life.
So I could see all this stuff and, not really thinking much about it, I sat down to write, more or less just to see what would come out, I guess. And what came out… well, what came out was what is now the first half of chapter two of Death Was the Other Woman, pretty much as it was published. And what I discovered – what I’d never before realized – was that the language of noir was my cradle language. I’ll explain that, too. My father was an immigrant to the United States in the late 1920s. He spoke no English and he taught himself the language by watching movies: film noir at a time when it was still mainstream.
I was born in Canada – in Vancouver -- in the 1960s and it didn’t even occur to me that my father used English like a Hollywood gangster. For example, if I was making a lot of noise after my bedtime, my father might come into my room and say, What’s with all the racket in here? Pipe down, little one. Close those peepers and get some shuteye. No, no, I mean it, he’d say if he saw me peeking, get to sleep or you’ll be in trouble like nobody’s business.
I’d pretty much forgotten all of this until I started to work on the book. And then the language came so easily – completely without struggle – and it was a little like coming home. And it was wonderful, too, because my father passed away in the mid-1980s and a girl misses her dad. So it was lovely to find that long-forgotten connection to a father I adored.
Ali : A lot of the backstory behind Kitty and her Detective Boss – Dex and the fixer ‘Mustard’ are left undisclosed so I suspect this is the start of a series?
Linda : Well, yes: it is the start of a series, but that’s not why the backstory is largely undisclosed. (Though I could see why you might think that.) I tend to underwrite where possible, to be completely honest. I want the reader to be able to bring as much of themselves to the story, so the less you say, the more the reader must bring and the more the reader must participate.
For example, unless a physical detail is important, it’s never mentioned. Kitty’s haircolor is never given, nor Dex’s. But you saw one, didn’t you? The first time I interviewed Terry Pratchett in the late 1990s, he told me something that I took very much to heart. Wait: the quote is beautiful. Let me find it: You describe a character by the shape they leave in the world. It's not the way they look. It's their looks. Their silences. The character description is not the color of the eyes as much as the way they turn their heads. Isn’t that lovely? And I tucked that bit away and kept it close, let it guide my hand, in a way.
Also, I only get so many words to play with. Every single one has to be important to move things along at the pace I need and in order to get where we’re going by the time I run out of pages!
Ali And so when can we expect a follow-up and are you prepared to drop any hints?
Well, the book will once again be published in North America by St. Martin’s Minotaur/Thomas Dunne is planned for early 2009. It’s once again Los Angeles and it’s still 1931 but this time the mystery focuses on the film industry and especially early Hollywood censorship.
Ali : And finally what books have passed your reading table that you have enjoyed?
Right now I’m thoroughly enjoying Stephen King’s Duma Key. Next up, I’m very much looking forward to The Toss of A Lemon by Padma Viswanathan (I read the first few paragraphs and it swept me away) and debut novelist Dan Vyleta’s Pavel & I.
Ali : And went to reading, writing or blogging, what do you do to relax?
Linda : Relax? What’s that? No, seriously: I do some of my best writing in the bathtub. That’s where I tend to work out the twistiest plot bits. I’m thinking of asking my accountant if I can write off my bath accoutrements, since I have a serious addiction to bubble bath and Lush bath bombs. And I walk. Long backcountry walks with David and our dog, an Australian Kelpie named Jett. We live by the sea and we often pack up a meal, then walk until we’re hungry when we stop for a half hour to consume our lunch on a rock somewhere, overlooking the surf.
And I cook. (So it’s a good thing about the walking, I guess.) I love to cook and am a fairly fierce home chef. And what better to relax you than the creation of a perfect béarnaise sauce or the rise of a lovely soufflé? Or better still, a lovely dinner party for friends, with lots of laughter and wine and beautiful food.
Ali : Thanks for talking to Shots Ezine as we appreciate you time and insight.
Thanks, Ali. The pleasure was entirely mine.
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