Thursday, June 1, 2017

Interview with mystery author Steve Haberman

Mystery author Steve Haberman joins me today to chat about his new atmospheric murder mystery, Murder Without Pity.

Welcome, Steve. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I earned a B. A. from the University of Texas, Austin, majoring in political science and minoring in history. Afterwards I passed my stock brokers exam and worked for a time at a small brokerage house before returning to school. Upon getting my legal assistant certification from UCLA, I worked for a major law firm in Los Angeles.

Successful stock market investments let me retire early and to pursue two dreams, travel and write, and I have since been extensively, at times for months, and frequently to Europe. I love the cosmopolitan bustle of Berlin, Prague, Rome, Vienna, and London. Many of these capitals find their way as background into my stories of intrigue...Murder Without Pity (Paris) and the soon-to-be-released The Killing Ploy (London, Paris, Lugano, Berlin), Darkness and Blood (London, Paris), and Winston Churchill's Renegade Spy (London, Zurich). My fifth novel will be set in post World War II Berlin, and to help my research for that, I'll be returning to Europe and will spend some time in the German capital.

Please tell us about your current release.
Murder Without Pity is an atmospheric French murder mystery (in English, not French) that ties in with the gathering storm of the Far Right. I've tried to create part of this menace in this novel and have at its center a state criminal investigator, who, because his grandfather was a propagandist for the Nazis during WWII, wants absolutely nothing to do with politics. All he wants is to go to work at the Palace of Justice Annex in Paris, work on solving his relatively small crimes, his "Little Miseries," and return home. And for quite a while, he gets his wish until he investigates the strange murder of a pensioner, who seemed to have lived an uneventful life. Not so, as he discovers, and when he does face up to that discovery, he will not be able to return to the life he had lived. Ever.

What inspired you to write this book?
I don't want to give away more of the story than I already have. I'll just say this. In 1995, while I was in the City of Light, a murder happened (not an ordinary one) that made headlines, nationally and internationally, for quite some time because of the victim's past. That murder was part of what I absorbed into the story in a transmuted form and surrounded it with much true history. Enough said.

Excerpt from Murder Without Pity:

The two men jumped Stanislas outside the burned-out apartment building, and he realized he had made a mistake. He raised his cane to strike, but it was too late. They muscled him up a flight of stairs and into a drafty room, and then they got serious.

The one with the German accent threw him hard onto a stool, making Stanislas cry out from pain that spiked up his bad leg. Next the accomplice yanked his arms behind, and he went to work, and everything went dark.

And afterwards, when Stanislas jerked to struggle loose, the man with the accent clamped a hand on his shoulder and warned in French, “Monsieur Cassel, don’t.” This warning frightened Stanislas even more. This stranger, who had helped ambush him, knew his name.

 “Monsieur Cassel,” the man continued, “you are a powerful examining magistrate here in Paris. You have investigated and solved many crimes. You know the high and mighty and have even indicted some. But you do not sit in your Ministry of Justice Annex office. And you cannot command the police to rescue you. You are in an abandoned tenement, alone and powerless. Our house rules: Not a word, please. I talk. You listen. You answer. A simple shake of your head for a ‘no.’ A simple nod for a ‘yes.’ House rules, as I said, because we cannot waste time. Understand?”

And Stanislas, through his shock at having walked into a trap, just nodded. House rules.

The man with the accent squeezed his shoulder hard. “Luc has roped your hands behind you. Understand?”

Stanislas nodded yes.

“He has blindfolded you. Understand?”


“He has taken away your cane. Briefly, monsieur, you are our prisoner. Do you understand how serious your situation is?”

Again, yes.

A cell phone beeped. Luc answered on the second ring, as though, Stanislas guessed, expecting the caller. In the near silence, as Luc listened, someone somewhere outside in the fog pounded an angry beat on congas. Through the throb, Stanislas could hear behind him Luc mumble words that sounded like code. Something about bringing the car around. About keeping the headlights low. Do this, Luc ordered. Do that. And Stanislas thought, they’re going to kill me.

Luc flipped shut his cell with a harsh click. “Three minutes,” he said. “Now what.... 

What exciting story are you working on next?
I'm finishing up The Killing Ploy, which will be very topical when it comes out since "fake news" will feature heavily in one part of the thriller. I've got the beginning, middle, and the ending, and all that is left is some polishing. The Killing Ploy will take place fifty percent of the time in this country and the balance in my favorite territory for inspiration, Europe.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I started writing articles eons ago and getting paid for it

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Here's my work day:
Because I'm somewhat of an insomniac, I wake up anywhere between 3 to 4 in the morning, usually. I might read a novel or history for a time or check my email or glance through the Washington Post and New York Times to see how messed up the world is (and marvel that we're still here), and finally see how the stock market will open. If by then, I'm drowsy, I'll try to sleep till 5:45.

Then I'll have breakfast, catch the opening of the stock market, watch a little U. S. or French news, walk or ride my bike for about an hour, and then my writing time starts, which can be anywhere from 8:30 to 9 and which can last normally till noon.

At that point, I'm done. However, though I pull away from the writing desk, my mind is still working, and if any idea come up, I'll write them down. Rarely, if enough ideas during this interim rest period bubble to the surface, I'll return to writing during the evening.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I think writing occurs on two levels, the conscious and the subconscious. After I've formally finished writing for the day, I have to tell my mind to relax so that more creative ideas, relating to my current project, can bubble to the surface. I relax in two ways: I engage in non-writing activities such as shopping for food, paying bills, reading, exercising, and I don't carry any paper on me to jot down any ideas, though I always, always carry a pen. So usually while I'm engaged in some non-writing act, ideas for the story surface. At that point, I jot them down on whatever is handy...a grocery receipt, a napkin, a tossed away newspaper, a bus schedule, or even on my palm. So the idea of relaxing the mind and waiting for good things to happen always works.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Since I'm from Texas, a cowboy, what else? I had boots, a stetson, spurs. The only things missing were a horse and a posse.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Darkness and Blood will be the sequel to The Killing Ploy. It too will be highly topical since some of the emotions expressed in this thriller will be fear, anxiety, paranoia. My fourth novel, Winston Churchill's Renegade Spy, will have as the central problem trying to ferret out a German spy at the heart of the prime minister's government during World War II.

Before I end, Lisa, I want to thank you for offering me this opportunity, and I wish you the best.


Thanks for being here today, Steve. All the best with your writing.

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