The Big Thrill Sits Down to Discuss GANGSTERS DON’T DIE with Tod Goldberg
Mafia hit-man-turned-rabbi Sal Cupertine is ready to get out of the life. But it’s not going to be easy. His once-brilliant plan to pass himself off as Rabbi David Cohen is unraveling. Enemies on both sides of the law are hot on his trail. His wife and son are unreachable in witness protection and are probably in danger. In order to find his family, get out of the desert alive, and salvage his long-sought-after happy ending, Sal is going to have to confront some very bad people from his past.
Native American kingpin Peaches Pocotillo has wrested control of Chicago’s mob family while expanding his criminal empire in the west, and now seeks to settle an old score with Sal. These two antiheroes have a history that stretches back decades, and the blood feud between Peaches and Sal will lead them to a violent showdown deep in the heart of the low desert.
As complications cast old revelations in a new light, including one that stretches back to the long-ago death of Sal’s infamous gangster father Dark Billy Cupertine, Sal must team up with some unlikely allies—and confront the reality of who he has become—in this stunning conclusion to the popular and critically acclaimed Gangsterland trilogy.
New York Times bestselling author Tod Goldberg recently spent time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, GANGSTERS DON’T DIE.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
The entire series of novels was born out of a short story for Akashic’s Las Vegas Noir anthology, which came out in 2008, and was spurred by a single incident: I saw a person walk out of an old — I mean, 150 years old — cemetery in Palm Springs and I thought, Well, if you want to commit the perfect murder, bury someone in an old cemetery. And then, like that, an idea came into my mind about how an enterprising crime family might do that very thing.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
I feel like Swag by Elmore Leonard is always in my head, not that it shows up in this per se, but I love the notion of criminals with a code, that they write down, even if it’s just on a napkin. And then, for this concluding book in a trilogy, I spent a lot of time looking at third movies in a series and trying my best to not make mistakes like, say, The Godfather III. And I was listening to an awful lot of Jason Isbell while I was writing this, but that’s always true.
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?
Yes. I had not read much in the way of fiction that showed Las Vegas in a true light. I lived in the city for a number of years and was fascinated by the duality of my neighbors. I lived in a condo complex with cops, strippers, drug dealers, low level gangters, and regular working people. From 9-5, the were at war with each other on the Strip, but after hours, everyone clocked out, it was a very peaceful place. It was such an odd and unsettling experience.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
My next project will be a crime novel that takes place at the Salton Sea in th 1960s, based on a short story of mine in the book The Low Desert.
Tod Goldberg is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen books, including The Low Desert (named Southwest Book of the Year), Gangsterland (a finalist for the Hammett Prize), Gangster Nation, The House of Secrets (which he co-authored with Brad Meltzer), Living Dead Girl (a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), and the popular Burn Notice series, three times a finalist for the Scribe Award. His books have been published in a dozen languages and around the world and were twice named a finalist for the VN international Thriller of the Year Award. His next book, GANGSTERS DON’T DIE, will be released in 2023.
His short fiction has been collected in three volumes—Simplify, which won the Other Voices Book Prize and was a finalist for the SCBA Award, Other Resort Cities, and his latest book, The Low Desert: Gangster Stories—and has been widely anthologized, including in Best American Mystery & Suspense. His nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, among countless others, and has earned five Nevada Press Association Awards for excellence, while his essay “When They Let Them Bleed” was selected for Best American Essays. For his body of work, Tod was honored with the Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.
In addition to his work on the page, Tod is also the cohost of the podcast Literary Disco, along with Julia Pistell & Rider Strong, which has been named a top podcast by the Washington Post, The Guardian, Mashable, and even Good Housekeeping.
Tod Goldberg holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature from Bennington College and is a Professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside where he founded and directs the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. He lives in Indio, CA with his wife, Wendy Duren.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.
GANGSTERS DON’T DIE with Tod Goldberg