This week I’d like to welcome author Neil Michael Burke, author of the “The Crusader” mystery/thriller series. Burke recently released his debut title, “Carney’s Gun,” and will be following it up shortly with a new installment every month to keep the story growing.
I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his project:
THE CRUSADER: CARNEY’S GUN is the first in a serial focusing on the Detectives of the Quesada City Police Department as they hunt for a gangland vigilante who is using the gun of a long dead cop in his executions. This storyline will run through eight instalments before being collected into a paperback. I think people who enjoy crime fiction will enjoy it. It’s perfect to read on your way to work on the bus, tram or train.
The cover image is pretty slick. You told me that a friend of yours helped you in the design. What feel did you want to convey about the story through the cover’s look?
I didn’t really have any input on the cover except that I said it would be cool if it looked kind of retro. It was all done by Bobby Craig and he thought it would make perfect sense to have the cover in the style of the old Penguin Crime books from the nineteen seventies. Personally I think that it’s a great cover, it really stands out from a lot of other crime books that I see.
The novella is set in the fictional city of Quesada. Why did you make the decision to create a fictional setting rather than stage your story in a real city? Also, what goes into the process of creating a fictional place to make it as realistic as possible?
Originally when I started working on THE CRUSADER, it was set in England – I’m English – but the more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to set it in America. After all, it was American crime fiction that first got me into the genre.
I thought about setting it in Los Angeles, but a lot of crime novels are set in Los Angeles, including my personal favourite fictional cop; Harry Bosch. So I thought I would set it in a fictional city. I named it Quesada in homage to Joe Quesada, the comic book artist, plus it sounded like it could realistically be a place in Southern California.
To bring Quesada to life, I looked at Los Angeles, Detroit and Baltimore. There are different neighbourhoods, and each has its own identity. Also, and this was just for me really but I hope the readers pick up on it too; a lot of the street names are the names of famous authors and crime noir characters: Connelly, Chandler, Marlowe. In the second instalment, there is the Brubaker Building and Westlake Drive.
Tell us a little about Detective Toby Bryant, the story’s protagonist. Did you model his character off anyone in particular, or is he a complete fabrication from your mind?
Originally he was named Toby Kay but I changed it to Bryant and he really came alive to me. I looked at various fictional cops that I like; Harry Bosch, McNulty and Freamon from The Wire, Rebus, and so on. I really dissected these characters, and took them apart and focused on what I thought made them such compelling characters. One thing I did purposefully to set Bryant aside from these is that he doesn’t listen to Jazz. It seems like all fictional cops listen to Jazz, and I didn’t want that for Bryant. Especially as nobody could write about the effect of Jazz music on a grizzled cop’s soul like Michael Connelly so to that end I made Bryant a fan of country music. The ring tone of his phone is a Johnny Cash song. He listens to Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Just that little thing I think makes him stand out from the crowd.
Another thing about Bryant is his personal life, it’s messed up but he’s not jaded or anything by it. He has three children, all grown up: one is a cop, one is an artist and the other is serving life in jail. His wife is in a nursing home and the ex-wife of his jailed son lives with him with his two grandchildren. Bryant loves being a Granddad; it’s the best thing in the world to him. In that regard I suppose I based a little of his personality, especially how he is with the grandchildren, on my own Granddad.
In writing the mystery genre, writing a detective lead character can often falter into copying a clichéd vision of somebody else’s novel. Tell us how your novella stands out from rest out there?
Yes, it is easy to write a cliché-ridden piece of work, and I’ve read several in the past. I try not to think about other crime books. When I’m writing THE CRUSADER,I try and stay away from crime novels and read things like Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk and pulp stuff by people like Barry Reese and Will Murray. I think THE CRUSADER stands apart first and foremost by its format. It’s meant to evoke the style of comic books. A chunk of story each month. I chose to do that deliberately as I used to write comic books and in my mind made the transition to prose easier. I think the plot is different. It’s certainly not something I’ve came across in a crime novel before and not to give anything away but there is a huge twist coming in part three; THE SEVENTY FOUR CLUB, that will really turn the heat up on Bryant, Mossberg and Robbie.
Where do you find your inspiration for writing and ideas? Do you have a writing routine?
I’m not sure where my inspiration comes from. Sometimes it might be something I read in the paper. Other times it might be something I see in a film, and think, “I could do that better,” – egotistical, I know, but it’s true. I saw a vampire movie a while ago (can’t remember the name) but it promised to be a gory vampire horror and didn’t deliver. I’m planning on writing a novel in the near future using a similar theme.
As for my writing routine, I write mainly at night as I am a full time dad and look after my son during the day.
As your series of detective mysteries continues, where do you hope to take and evolve the storyline?
Once THE CRUSADER is finished, the adventures of the Quesada City Police will continue. A sequel is already being planned which will see Bryant working the murder of a Real Life Superhero who was in part inspired by Phoenix Jones. That one’s going to be a lot of fun to write. I’ve also got a couple of spin-off ideas in mind for Elvis Bryant, Robbie and Mossberg that I hope to write in the next year or so. These will be short novellas however, maybe eighty pages.
Separate from the QCPD books, I have a collection of short stories on the backburner that I hope shows my range as a writer. There are a couple crime stories; one of which is a heist caper but there are others in different genres such as there is a zombie story, a science fiction transhuman thriller set in a strange and futuristic dystopian city and for fans of Scott Mariani and Dan Brown there is the Lost Legion. There’s also a gritty Victorian mystery starring Dr John Watson from Sherlock Holmes.