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TODAY

Friday, November 17

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Sean Chercover's first novel, Big City, Bad Blood, will be in stores Jan. 9, and has already garnered a load of excellent pre-pub blurbs and reviews. Book Sense listed Chercover's debut as a notable book for January, while the Midwest Book Review said, "Spectacular is just the word for this wonderful debut novel." Kirkus Reviews has chimed in as well: "Dudgeon's darkness adds welcome depth and complexity to this hardboiled debut, a likely series kickoff."

To whet your appetite, here's an abridged reprint of the publisher's book description:

"A disillusioned newspaper reporter turned private detective, Ray Dudgeon isn't trying to save the world. He just wants to do an honest job, and do it well. But when doing an honest job threatens society's most powerful and corrupt, Ray's odds for survival make for a sucker's bet. ... From the back alleys of Chicago to the man-sions of Beverly Hills to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood propels readers relentlessly forward on a bullet-fast, adrenaline-pumping ride they will not soon forget."

A former private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans, Chercover has since written for film, television and print. Today, he splits his time between Chicago and Toronto. A book launch party is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 11, at 8pm at Sheffield's Tavern, 3258 N. Sheffield. Visit Chercover's website to find out more about the launch party, the book, and the many local bookstore appearances the author will be making.

Q: Years ago I went to a James Ellroy reading, and during the Q&A afterwards he said something that remains in my head to this day. He was comparing Raymond Chandler to Dashiell Hammett, and he observed that Chandler wrote about the character he was always afraid he truly was, whereas Hammett wrote about the character he always wanted to be. I've read both since then, and with Ellroy's observation tickling at the back of my brain, I have to say that it's Chandler who comes out as being more authentic. How do you observe authenticity in the character of your writing?

Chercover: Hammett's plotting and his fictional detective work bore a much closer resemblance to reality than did Chandler's, but Chandler never cared much about that kind of authenticity. I agree that Chandler comes out as more emotionally authentic, and for me, that's what matters most. I can see how Hammett may have been indulging in some wish-fulfillment, with the characters of The Continental Op and Nick Charles. But I don't think that's true of Sam Spade — and perhaps it's not coincidental that The Maltese Falcon is Hammett's masterpiece.

As for my writing, I sure as hell would not want to be Ray Dudgeon, my protagonist in Big City, Bad Blood. He interests me, though. Certain of his less attractive attributes reflect the person I used to be, and others reflect the person I could've turned out to be, had my life not changed course. But that all makes the process sound too much like a jigsaw puzzle, when it's actually much more organic than that. Authenticity comes from telling the truth. Not the safe truth that makes you look good to yourself and your peers, but the hard truth that takes you out of your comfort zone and threatens to expose your insecurities and fears.

Q: It seems to me that within the literary landscape the crime/mystery genre is the most technical. Suspense, et al., really needs to be finessed and sustained through pace, plot, character. To what degree have you felt unconstrained by such technical aspects of this genre? Is the writing of a crime/mystery novel a more naturalistic process than I'm giving it credit for?

Chercover: I think it is more naturalistic than you're giving it credit for ...at least in my experience. I didn't feel constrained at all — but I didn't write a mystery, in the strict sense of the term. There's no dead body in chapter one, no corresponding mandate to find out how the body got dead and who made it dead.

I'm actually not much interested in puzzle mysteries, as a writer or a reader. I'm more interested in character-driven stories. But if we talk about the genre as "crime fiction" rather than "mystery" or "thriller" then we can see a vast landscape that includes Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Edgar Allen Poe, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Nelson Algren, Chester Himes, Mickey Spillane and so on.

And I do think that the one thing all crime fiction shares — the commission of a crime — does demand something of the writer. It demands that something happen. And it demands that that something have actual consequence in the world. It demands that a character behave in a way that is so contrary to the mores of society, the behavior in question has actually been codified into law as a crime. In some ways, that's more liberating than constraining.

Q: Cops or robbers?

Chercover: Robbers. Or even better, cops who are robbers.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan, and today lives with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them. Direct comments or suggestions for interviews to tqf@gapersblock.com.

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