By Lee Lindauer
It’s summer in the Valley of the Sun; the temperature’s rising and so is the body count. One of the city’s most exclusive escorts has misplaced her little black book and someone’s turned it into a hit list. Now Phoenix homicide detective Sean Richardson must stop a clever and elusive killer who’s bent on administering a very personal form of justice, until he can, some of the city’s most affluent citizens will pay the ultimate price for their sexual indiscretions…
Now that the jacket excerpt to the novel, UNTIL DEATH, has my attention, I really wondered how hot it would get in Phoenix snuggled up with this whodunit. So what better way to answer that question than to get a few answers from the author himself, James L. Thane.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your assortment of interesting jobs you’ve held over the years? From gas station attendant to PhD is pretty impressive, care to elaborate?
I went to work at a very early age as the janitor in my father’s dry cleaning plant and as I got older, I graduated through most of the other jobs in the plant, including delivery boy, dry cleaner and presser.
Once in college, I held a number of jobs including selling parts at an auto dealership and working at a couple of gas stations. I also worked the swing shift at a lumber mill where I was a sawyer and also the ambulance driver on my shift. That was the hardest physical work I’ve ever done, as well as the scariest. Being nineteen years old and having to first race some poor guy to the hospital and then call his wife at 1:00 in the morning to tell her that her husband had just cut off some vital body part was absolutely no fun at all.
I ultimately completed my college career with a doctorate in history and taught for a number of years. I enjoyed that very much, but I had always wanted to write and so finally decided to leave teaching and begin writing full-time. I wrote one novel that did not sell and then wrote NO PLACE TO DIE, which did find an agent and a publisher. Thomas & Mercer then picked up my second novel, UNTIL DEATH, and I’m now writing full-time.
Until Death is the second in the Sean Richardson detective series. Could you expound a little on Sean and his character?
As is normally the case with a series character, Sean is still evolving. He’s in his middle thirties, a phoenix native, descended from one of the Valley’s original white settlers. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all developers, and the family became fairly wealthy. But Sean chose a different path and, rather than going into the family business with his father, he became a policeman and ultimately a homicide detective.
Sean was married to a woman named Julie who was injured in an auto accident several months before the first book, NO PLACE TO DIE, begins. As it opens, she is lying in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Much of Sean’s character is revealed through the actions that he takes in response to Julie’s condition as well as those he takes in response to the case at hand. Julie’s issue is resolved at the end of NO PLACE TO DIE, and UNTIL DEATH begins three months later. One of my principal reasons for writing the book was so that I could watch the way in which Sean adjusted to the new circumstances of his life off the job.
What influenced you to pick Phoenix as the setting for the Sean Richardson novels?
I was born and raised in western Montana and then spent a number of years living in the Midwest. As much as I enjoyed my time there, I missed the mountains and the West very much. I came to Phoenix for the first time on vacation in the middle 1990s and fell in love with the area. I continued to vacation here regularly and then when I left teaching I decided to move here permanently. It seemed natural to set the Sean Richardson books here, especially since relatively few other crime writers have chosen this setting.
Tell us a little bit about UNTIL DEATH. What sets this apart from other generic crime fiction?
As I suggested above, the setting makes it somewhat unique. Unlike Southern California, for example, which serves as the setting for a fairly large number of crime novels, there are relatively few such books set here. I also hope that my characters are distinctive and will stand out from those in other crime series, and like any other writer, I suppose, I hope that my voice is unique enough to set my books apart from the scores of other crime novels that are published every year.
The crimes Sean is investigating deal with the murder of several clients of one of Phoenix’s top escorts, Gina Gallagher. To keep the reality of police procedural intact, how does Sean deal with Gina Gallagher who obviously is offering sexual services, especially to the men who have been murdered, especially since prostitution is illegal in Arizona?
As you might imagine, this is a matter of critical concern to Gina Gallagher when she first approaches Sean. At that point, the police have no idea what ties the victims together and she’s afraid that she might get herself in trouble for coming forward and identifying the victims as her clients. But Sean is concerned with the larger crimes involved and in that context, he’s not going to hassle Gallagher because of her occupation. He’s grateful that she came forward when she could have said nothing, leaving the police fumbling in the dark. Additionally, Gina stops seeing clients once she realizes that someone is targeting her customers and so this ceases to be an issue, at least for the moment.
On your web page you explain that your parents were both avid readers of crime fiction, especially Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie. What led you down the path of writing about crime fiction and are their other influences that interest you in this genre?
Since crime novels were always readily available when I was growing up, I began reading them at a very young age and they have always been my principal form of recreational reading. Given my first profession, I’ve obviously read a lot of history and I always enjoyed reading a good crime novel as a refreshing alternative. I do read some literary fiction and I occasionally read in other genres, but crime fiction remains by far my favorite and so, when I decided to try to write a novel, it just seemed natural that it would be a crime novel.
What elements are there to writing a good detective/crime fiction novel? Do you research real detectives to add realism to your writing?
Writers and readers might offer a number of different answers to the first half of your question, depending on their own personal tastes. For my own part, I prefer character-driven novels, which is probably why Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series remains my favorite crime series of all. I don’t think that any crime writer has created a protagonist as interesting as Scudder and I’ve loved watching him evolve over the course of the series. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch would be another excellent example.
I want an engrossing story as well and one that is grounded in reality, at least up to a point. I have interviewed Phoenix homicide detectives who have been enormously helpful in giving me a sense of what the job is like and how an investigation would be conducted. But in the “real” world of course, most homicide investigations involve a lot of boring, tedious work that often leads nowhere and that wouldn’t make for very entertaining reading. And most real homicide detectives, no matter the great job that they might do, are not as glamorous and interesting as fictional detectives. So I think a crime writer strives for a balance and attempts to write a story that is first and foremost as entertaining as possible while attempting to make it as realistic as possible.
What are you doing to market the book, and how much involvement does Thomas & Mercer have in the promotion?
Marketing any book these days requires a multi-faceted approach and requires the author to be much more engaged in the marketing effort than might have been the case even ten years ago. In promoting UNTIL DEATH, I will be doing fairly traditional author events—readings and signings, for example. I will be doing interviews like this one and attempting to promote the book in the more traditional media—newspapers, magazines and so forth. I’ve redesigned my website in preparation for the release of UNTIL DEATH; I’m heavily involved in social media like Facebook and Twitter, and I do have a blog, which I use principally as a site to review the crime novels that I’m reading.
I’ve also been very actively involved on Goodreads for three years or so, and it remains my favorite social networking site. I enjoy the site first and foremost as a reader and have made a number of good “friends” there. Naturally, I hope that my activity there will help in the marketing of my books, but either way, it’s a great place to connect with other readers.
The people at Thomas & Mercer have been enormously helpful at every stage of this process from the moment they acquired the book. They will play a very important role in the promotion of the book, and I’m very happy to be a part of the T&M team along with a lot of other writers that I’ve long admired.
Now that you’ve got two Sean Richardson novels under your belt, are there plans for more?
Yes, I am planning to do more books featuring Sean Richardson, although not immediately. While writing UNTIL DEATH, I had an idea for a stand-alone suspense novel that really didn’t work as a police procedural and so I’ve had to send Sean on a short vacation. The next book, which I’ve tentatively titled, PICTURE ME GONE, is now finished and with that behind me, I’m working on a third Sean Richardson novel.
James L. Thane has worked as a dry cleaner, an auto parts salesman, a gas station attendant, a sawyer, an ambulance driver and a college professor. UNTIL DEATH is his second novel, following NO PLACE TO DIE, which was published in 2010.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.