Lawrence Block is the grand master of crime, mystery and suspense novels. He has written over 100 novels and scores of short stories. He has a career that stretches back over half a century. He talked to Tripwire recently about his latest novel, The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, out from Hard Case Crime…
Q: The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, your new novel from Hard Case Crime, is at once a return to the noir world of James M. Cain and an intensely erotic contemporary novel. How did you get the idea for it?
Like most of the ideas I’ve had over the years, it just came to me. Hard Case had just published Borderline, a pseudonymous book of mine from the early 1960s, and I had the thought that it might be fun to write something with that kind of direct, fast-paced narrative drive. I said as much to my wife, and fifteen seconds later I straightened up in my seat and said, “I just got an idea.” I let it develop over the next several weeks, then sat down and wrote it.
Q: Your hero, Doak Miller, is a New York cop retired to Florida, where he seems to be leading a very active sex life. Did you know from the start that the erotic element would be so strong?
I knew it would be an important factor. It always is in that kind of novel, because why else would a protagonist risk everything, his life included, for a woman? That kind of sexual impetus is very much a part of Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, but it’s essentially subliminal. The times didn’t allow for candor.
Even so, Doak surprised me. I started writing, knowing a lot about the plot but only a limited amount about the characters, and in the very first chapter Doak recalls an intense sexual episode with a married woman, the real estate agent who has sold him his house. And we’re off and running.
Q: Many of your books are set in New York. The Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series, of course, and your post-911 thriller, Small Town. The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes takes place in Gallatin County, Florida. Is there really such a place?
Not exactly. I’m afraid you won’t find Gallatin County on any Florida maps. The area exists, certainly, as do most of the named towns in the novel—Perry, for example. I lived in Florida for a couple of years in the mid-1980s, but in a different part of the state. Gallatin County is largely a creature of my imagination, but I don’t think it differs greatly from what you’d find in that part of Central Florida.
Q: Nobody would mistake Doak Miller for a knight in shining armor. In fact one woman comes right out and tells him he’s a bad man.
That would be Pregnant Girl.
Q: Yes, and it’s hard to disagree with her. He’s manipulative, he makes his own rules, and he doesn’t draw the line at murder.
You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing.
Q: Yes, and what’s remarkable to me is how I reacted to him. In spite of myself, I wanted him and his blue-eyed girl to get away with it. I suspect I’m not the only reader who felt this way. Are you turning your readers into sociopaths?
What a thought. No, I doubt I’m actually sending anyone’s moral compass spinning, but I do suspect some readers find themselves puzzling over the reaction you’ve described. I’ve had reports to that effect about my series hit man, Keller; people tell me he’s a Guilty Pleasure, that they like him and don’t think they should.
If that’s true, and if it’s similarly the case with Doak Miller, I’d say I must have succeeded not in disorienting the reader but in making the character genuinely human. That’s what I always set out to do, and it’s gratifying when it works.
Q: Can we look forward to more about Doak?
It doesn’t seem likely. The book strikes me as complete in and of itself. Still, this is the sort of question to which I’ve learned never to say never. There’s some interest right now in developing the book for TV, and I can’t help contemplating future adventures for our Mr. Miller.
For now, I know the future holds a couple of things. First is an updated and greatly expanded version of my first book for writers. Writing the Novel from Plot to Print will be reborn early in 2016 as Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel. Then, in the fall, Hard Case Crime will bring out a long-lost book of mine, published under a pen name and lost to the world for fifty years. I’ll admit the world got along just fine without it, but I’ll be glad to have it back, and with my own name on it.