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The Big Thrill Discusses FADEAWAY JOE with Hugh Lessig

FADEAWAY JOE tells the story of Joe Pendergast, an aging enforcer cast aside by a criminal organization after he develops early-stage dementia. Joe wants revenge against the crime boss who abandoned him. He moved to a small neighborhood where he befriends a young homeless woman. As their relationship progresses and clock continues ticking inside Joe’s head, he discovers that helping this woman is more important than his lust for personal revenge.

Hugh Lessig recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his debut thriller, FADEAWAY JOE.

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
I wrote a piece of flash fiction for Shotgun Honey in 2018 titled “To Go.” A conversation on Death Row between a young criminal and his elderly “mentor” revealed the complexities of their relationship. The young man was sentence to death for killing to save the old man. As I grew older myself (I’m now 65) the idea of cross-generational relationships set against the landscape of crime began to interest me.

A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
I had written two novels before this. Neither one sold. I sensed this one was a notch above. The story was cleaner and I took my time with it. I wrote the first draft and set it aside for months, then brought it to a writing class. It taught me a good lesson. Writing takes time.

Hugh Lessig

Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
The movies “Road To Perdition” — also the graphic novel of the same name — and “Gran Torino” with Clint Eastwood were big influences.

When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I wanted to a crime novel that existed on two levels — a straight up crime story, and exploring the depth of a relationship. Joe Pendergast is professional tough guy — a bouncer, leg-breaker and killer. He can’t beat dementia, and it allowed me a writer to explore another side of him.

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
People can always change. Joe is in his mid-sixties and almost all of his life choices have been bad – up to this point. But he finally moves out of his comfort zone.

I should point out: This is my debut novel, and I’m 65, so it’s never too late!

What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I have a several short stories coming out in anthologies from Down & Out Books, including a collection set during Prohibition. I’m working on a new novel called “Mallets,” about a professional thief recently released from jail and returning to the small Virginia town where she grew up as a homeless girl. She is blackmailed into stealing again, and in the process discovers an awful secret that will change the town’s history. But will people believe a thief who wants to be a whistleblower?


Hugh Lessig spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania and Virginia, with assignments ranging from pre-war Ukraine to the Navy’s earthquake relief effort in Haiti. His short fiction and a novella have appeared in several anthologies from Down & Out Books, including the Mickey Finn 21st Century Noir series. His debut novel, FADEAWAY JOE released August 22 from Crooked Lane Books. He currently works in public communication for Newport News Shipbuilding and lives on the grounds of Fort Monroe, a former Army base in Hampton, Va.

To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.

FADEAWAY JOE with Hugh Lessig