What: He was born in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo is the author of CATCHING WATER IN A NET, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond novels CLUTCHING AT STRAWS, COUNTING TO INFINITY, and CIRCLING THE RUNWAY; CHASING CHARLIE CHAN, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; and the stand-alone thriller GRAVESEND. His latest work is BROOKLYN JUSTICE.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
BROOKLYN JUSTICE is a fast-paced hardboiled read. Where did the idea for your P.I. Nick Ventura and this novel come from?
The Jake Diamond series is set primarily in San Francisco with occasional runs to Los Angeles. I very much enjoyed revisiting Brooklyn when I worked on GRAVESEND and wanted to return again. I also wanted to write a more dangerous protagonist (Jake has always been more over easy than hardboiled). Combining both interests led to a Coney Island private investigator who is more inclined toward seeking justice in his own terms and handing out punishment accordingly.
BROOKLYN JUSTICE kicks off with Ventura playing cards at a casino. Why choose this setting to start the story?
I had visited Atlantic City and observed a high-stakes poker game. There was an intensity and an urgency which fascinated me. The contest moved without punctuation and I wanted to try capturing that feverish pace in a narrative. Run-on sentences had spell-check in a panic. Watching was like stepping on to a very high-speed treadmill and I hoped writing it would give the reader a similar sensation. Of course it had to end with a murder—it’s what we do.
The story in BROOKLYN JUSTICE is very modern, but the writing is reminiscent of Hammett and Chandler. Who are some of your biggest influences?
That is a very flattering comparison. I love the classics. Jake Diamond is always carrying a dog-eared paperback and the book he is reading ties into his story. A TALE OF TWO CITIES in CATCHING WATER IN A NET, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO in CLUTCHING AT STRAWS, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME in CIRCLING THE RUNWAY. The earliest crime novels I read were classics—CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, LES MISERABLES, OLIVER TWIST, THE WOMAN IN WHITE. When I made it to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain (who I originally discovered through films) I was taken by the smart dialogue and my own writing became very dialogue driven.
Aside from the classics, who are a few contemporary crime/mystery writers that you enjoy reading?
I enjoy reading smart fiction. Crime fiction is perceived as genre, but I see it as the vehicle you are most comfortable in when taking the journey. I also enjoy books in which setting takes a major role. That being said, I would mention Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Loren Estleman, S.J. Rozan and James Ellroy—to name just a few.
Prior to BROOKLYN JUSTICE, you published the Jake Diamond series. Tell me a little about the character and how he’s developed?
Jake Diamond is a Russian-Jewish Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn who relocated to California in the hopes of getting into movies as an actor. When that didn’t pan out, and when meeting a Santa Monica PI working as a consultant on a film, Jake decides to try the investigation business. He partners with Jimmy and ultimately opens his own shop in San Francisco.
Jake’s development as a person is much influenced by his expedition toward being a more true and accessible friend. Events during the course of the series have also toughened him—enabled him to handle situations without as much outside assistance. Jake has definitely moved from over easy to at least soft-boiled.
Jake Diamond and Nick Ventura meet in a dark alley. What happens next?
Jake asks for a light.
I grew up in New York, lived in San Francisco, and consider them two of the most intoxicating cities in the world. I like writing both because they both add so much character and because they are so different. The distinctions between the New York and West Coast (San Francisco/Los Angeles) settings may be best described by looking at films—The French Connection vs. To Live and Die in L.A., Serpico vs. Training Day, The Godfather vs. L.A. Confidential, and also seen through the fictional protagonists—Mike Hammer vs. Sam Spade, for example. California settings are more spread out. New York stories have more immediately recognizable landmarks and feel more intimate. New York cops and PI’s can be tough—but their counterparts in the west have more swagger. Writing both is good for me because it stretches my range and provides variety for me and my readers—protects me from comfort zones. I have recently written a few short stories set in Denver (where I presently live) and it is a different ballgame entirely.
I visited a podcast as a guest where we talked about that very subject (East vs. West Coast in Cop Movies):
I have short stories coming soon in a few anthologies—one featuring Jake and another Nick. Beside the four Jake Diamond books there is CHASING CHARLIE CHAN, where Jake appears only as an observer. The first book, CATCHING WATER IN A NET, begins with Jake discovering that his friend and mentor—a private investigator named Jimmy Pigeon—has been murdered in Los Angeles. The story becomes Jake’s search for the killer. In that book, and in subsequent novels in the series, Jake often mentions Jimmy—citing things he learned from Pigeon—asking himself what would Jimmy do? I became curious about Jimmy. It led me to write a book in which Pigeon is the main character. To do so, I had to turn back the clock. The book is set in 1994, with a back story that visits 1940’s Hollywood. It was a gas to research. I’ve been considering a book in which Diamond and Pigeon work a case together.
What other publishing plans do you have for 2016 and beyond?
I have short stories upcoming in each of three anthologies—UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS, COAST TO COAST: PRIVATE EYES FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA, and MAMA SAID, stories inspired by Outlaw Country songs. A full-length sequel to GRAVESEND will hopefully be ready to hit the streets before year’s end.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now for pre-order from Down & Out Books.