Duck’s Back in Barrett’s New Thriller
By J. H. Bográn
When teenager Layla Soto watches a video of her father being snatched away from their residence building, she’s desperate to do something instead of just sit around like the kidnappers ordered. She turns to private investigator Duck Darley.
Even with the brutal summer heat in New York, Duck has been enjoying the last few months solving easy divorce cases while staying sober. At first, he’s reluctant to take the Soto case, but there’s something about the sharp-tongued Layla that appeals to him. Maybe it’s the fact that her family might be just as screwed up as his own. There’s the thrill of a new case too. And Duck is eager to re-unite with his partner, Cass, despite her betrayal in the previous book, Against Nature.
For Barrett, the inspiration for THE TOWER OF SONGS came while watching the construction of a new building in the so-called Billionaire’s Row of midtown Manhattan.
“The idea of taking a billionaire from the very top of one of these towers came from an all-too-real case in China,” Barrett says. “A billionaire named Xiao Jianhua—who managed the assets for many high-ranking party members—was abducted from his residence at the Hong Kong Four Seasons in January 2017. The case received a bit of press in the West before fading away.”
THE TOWER OF SONGS, the third book in the series, finds Duck having quit drinking and on “the weed cure,” with the occasional Xanax on the side for his PTSD.
“The weed cure is definitely a ‘thing’ these days,” Barrett says. “I’ve seen a number of friends and acquaintances successfully quit drinking and other drugs by sticking to this one vice that is comparatively healthier than just about any other.”
The research for this book was more demanding than the previous entries in the series. Barrett loved delving into the pharmaceutical bit and its related insane fortunes. For the real estate part, a friend of the author’s put him in touch with a developer working in the “supertall” space.
“He generously gave me a tour of a model apartment,” Barrett says. “It’s very much like the one I describe in the book. Many of the details—like the million-dollar bathtub made of a single slab of quartz—are not made up. That bathtub exists exactly as I describe it!”
The building where the Soto family lives is almost a character in itself, and it has a counterpart in the real world.
“I don’t identify it specifically—for obvious reasons—but careful readers will notice that I’m essentially describing 432 Park Avenue, which currently holds the title for tallest residential tower in the world, though not for long,” Barrett says. “I incorporate other details from other ‘supertalls’ in the descriptions, so it’s not exactly 432 Park, but that one was the model.”
New York’s classic lifestyle and its drowning by corporate takeover are also featured in the book. Barrett has lived in Manhattan since 1998 and he’s witnessed this change, although he also claims change is embedded in the city’s DNA.
“New York is notorious for endlessly reinventing itself and shedding much of its past without sentimentality,” he says. “What’s changed now is that financial realities have pushed out not just much of the creative class, but so many of those small businesses that have given the city its character. Each neighborhood had its own unique, individual feel. Now, if every block is lined with the same bank branches and pharmacies, a lot of that character gets lost.”
“Tower of Song” is the name of an album and song by Leonard Cohen, which is not a coincidence—the author is obsessed with the artist, ranking him second only to Bob Dylan.
“That particular song is played a lot in our house,” Barrett says. “I pluralized it, just because I thought it made more sense for the story. Also, I’ve always loved how other writers—Ian Rankin, in particular—use favorite songs or album names for their books.”
Barrett is a declared pantser when writing his books as he finds it fun to discover the story as it’s happening. He gets to enjoy the twists first and is genuinely surprised by where the story takes him.
“Of course, this also means inevitable, extensive rewrites after the first draft, when many wrong turns are taken,” Barrett says. “An average writing day depends on what part of the process I’m in—first draft, rewriting, editing, etc. In the first-draft stage I get one to 2,000 words down a day, even at the expense of other responsibilities and work. My ideal writing times are early morning and late afternoon.”
A recent article in the New York Times Book Review discussed how many authors on the bestseller list are proud dog owners.
“For me,” Barrett says, “dog walks are such an essential part of the writing process. Solitary walks with my little mix-terrier rescue dog, Walter, are often the best times to work through scenes and characters. He’s also resting at my feet right now, as he usually is as I write.”
Barrett is currently writing the first draft of his next book, a standalone. Although he’s definitely returning to Duck at some point, he was longing for the challenge of a story with multiple points-of-view. And a challenge it is—with eight alternative perspectives in short chapters.
You’ll definitely read about it in a future edition of The Big Thrill.