Monday, June 22, 2020

New interview with crime fiction novelist Ed Duncan

A hearty welcome back to crime fiction author Ed Duncan. We’re chatting about his new novel, Rico Stays.

You can read our last interview about The Last Straw.

Ed is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He is the original author of a highly regarded legal treatise entitled Ohio Insurance Coverage, for which he provided annual editions from 2008 through 2012. Rico Stays is the third novel in the Pigeon-Blood Red Trilogy which began with Pigeon-Blood Red and was followed by The Last Straw. Ed, originally from Gary, Indiana, lives outside Cleveland.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Ed. Please tell us about your newest release.
Rico Stays continues the saga of the uneasy friendship between two men from different sides of the tracks, each of whom harbors a secret admiration for the other. Paul Elliott is an African American lawyer in a large, mostly white corporate law firm in Chicago, and Richard "Rico" Sanders is a white enforcer/killer for hire, but one with a conscience. Their paths cross when Rico is gravely wounded in a shootout with the hot-headed nephew of a local mob boss and three other men. Rico dispatches the three men, one of whom has a brother who has just been released from prison in California, but the nephew escapes and vows revenge. The brother arrives in Chicago also seeking revenge and joins forces with the nephew and others, but the brother is conflicted because of a budding relationship with an old girlfriend who thinks he has abandoned his criminal past.

After a brief hospital stay, Rico is released but he is in no condition to face multiple gunmen. Therefore, his girlfriend Jean persuades Paul to let them use Paul's cabin, located miles from the city, as a hideout until Rico regains his strength. Paul's girlfriend Evelyn has always been wary of Rico, and Paul allowing Rico to use his cabin causes a rift between her and Paul. After a few days, using Jean as bait, several killers lure Rico back to the city, and Paul and Evelyn are along for the ride and the climactic gun battle that follows.

What inspired you to write this book?
I knew practically from the start that I wanted to write at least a trilogy. With Pigeon-Blood Red and The Last Straw behind me, all that remained was to come up with a plot and a title for the third book. I knew I wanted Rico to be more vulnerable than in the first two books. Once I imagined him being wounded and needing Paul's help, the other elements of the plot fell into place. The title came to me while watching an old Barbara Stanwyck movie called Babyface. There was a scene where Stanwyck's lover asks her to get rid of her long-time maid, whose name was Chico. In response she replies gruffly, "Chico Stays." That gave me the idea for the title.

Excerpt from Rico Stays:
Cosgrove, however, hadn’t finished venting and didn’t appreciate Koblentz’s gesture. “You want some of this, old man?”

“I was just –”

Cosgrove interrupted him with a vicious slap to the mouth that drew blood. Koblentz fell to one knee, head bowed, and was silent.

“You bastard!” Jean yelled. She glanced at Rico, who was still in his car in front of her some ten yards away. She wasn’t sure how much he’d seen because his expression, as usual, was utterly inscrutable behind his aviators. She sprinted to Koblentz’s side and knelt beside him. “Are you okay?”

Cosgrove glared at her, then a cruel smile lifted his mouth. She was a mouth-wateringly gorgeous woman and his mouth watered. Taunting her, he pressed one foot against Koblentz’s back and slowly forced him to the ground. Jean’s eyes flashed and she straightened up and slapped him hard enough to make his head turn. At once surprised and enraged, he immediately drew his arm back to retaliate. Jean closed her eyes and flinched in anticipation. Cosgrove reached far behind him to increase the momentum of his blow and then he launched his open hand toward her as hard as he could, creating a swoosh of air as his hand traveled forward to meet Jean’s face.

But it never reached its target.

Rico had appeared seemingly out of nowhere and, with one hand, had grabbed Cosgrove’s wrist from behind, stopping his hand mere inches from Jean’s face. Now he stood behind Cosgrove holding his wrist in a vice-like grip from which there was no hope of escape. Slender and soft, Cosgrove was around five feet ten inches tall and weighed about one hundred and seventy-five pounds. Rico stood six feet two, weighed over two hundred pounds, and was solid muscle.

He was a killer, but not your run-of-the mill killer. He was exceptional at what he did, but he was not only that. He was also a killer with a conscience. He didn’t kill kids, he killed women only as a last resort, and he only killed people who “had it coming.” Or at least that was what he told himself, because sometimes it was a close call. But at least he tried. And that made him unique, as nobody else in his business gave a hit a second thought.

Cosgrove tried to turn to face him, but with just one hand holding his wrist, Rico prevented him from even budging. After Cosgrove stopped squirming, Rico twisted the man’s arm behind his back and wrenched it upward until he yelped in pain. Then he thrust his free forearm under Cosgrove’s chin and applied just enough pressure so that Cosgrove, with some effort, could still breathe and talk. Just.

Cosgrove squealed, “What the –”

“Shut up,” Rico said and turned to Jean who was helping Koblentz to his feet. “You all right?”

“Fine.” Her worried eyes met Koblentz’s. She smiled. “Are you okay?”

Gingerly wiping the blood from his face, he nodded and smiled back.

“Wait in the car,” Rico said.

“What are you gonna do with him?” Jean asked, a little apprehensively.

“Wait in the car.”

Jean started to press him but by now she knew the drill. She collected her shopping cart and she and Koblentz headed for the car. The boy, still on his back resting on his elbows, scrambled to his feet and stood staring at Rico in awe. Rico said, “Kid, get outta here.” Dejected, the boy slowly started to walk away. Raising his voice an octave, Rico said to the other gawkers, “That goes for everybody else, too.”

The edge in his voice did the trick. No one objected and no one lingered. Except the boy. He turned around after he’d taken a few steps and, in a voice just above a whisper, said, “Thanks, mister.”

The slightest hint of a smile appeared on Rico’s face. “Nice catch, kid.” That brought a grin to the boy’s face. He pounded the ball in his glove and hurried away.

Rico scanned the area in a 360-degree arc and, seeing no one besides the steadily retreating onlookers, released the choke hold on Cosgrove’s neck but maintained his grip on his wrist. Then he placed his free hand on the back of Cosgrove’s neck and, mimicking what Cosgrove had done to Koblentz moments earlier, he slowly guided him to the ground, face down. Rico knelt beside him.

Cosgrove coughed and drew in several sweet breaths of air now that the pressure on his windpipe had been relieved. “Your ass is mine, motherfucker,” he hissed under his breath.

“I don’t think so,” Rico said as he patted Cosgrove down. “I’m pretty attached to it.”

The pat down yielded a Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 revolver in Cosgrove’s belt under his jacket. Searching him had been a basic precaution, yet Rico hadn’t expected to find a gun and when he did, he immediately regretted leaving his own in his apartment.

“Shit,” he said out loud, but it was in the same tone of voice he might have used if he’d walked down three flights of stairs only to find that he’d left his cell phone upstairs in his apartment. In other words, he was irritated but not alarmed – yet. After all, this was only one guy with a .38 – no, one guy who used to have a .38. And so far, there was no evidence that he had company.

But there was no evidence that he was alone, either.

Rico tucked the gun in his own belt next to his belly, and with his free hand he reached down and turned Cosgrove’s face toward him. He had a question. He knew he couldn’t trust Cosgrove’s answer but the inflexion in his voice might give him a clue. “You alone, smart ass?”

Cosgrove said nothing.

Rico increased the upward pressure on Cosgrove’s arm which was still pinned behind his back. Cosgrove gritted his teeth. Rico increased the pressure again until Cosgrove could stand it no longer. He yelled, “Help!”

Maybe it was just a primal cry to the heavens, but Rico thought it was directed toward someone. Maybe more than one person. Who knew? He relaxed the pressure on Cosgrove’s arm but continued to hold his wrist in a vice-like grip. With his other hand he checked the .38, engaging the cylinder release, snapping the cylinder free, spinning it with his thumb, then snapping it back in place. It was fully loaded. Six rounds. A picture of his Sig Sauer with its twelve-round capacity magazine flashed across his mind. This will have to do.

What is your next writing project?
I haven't decided yet whether to enlarge the trilogy. I suppose it could be called the Pigeon-Blood Red Trilogy plus One. While I ponder that, though, as I mentioned in my last interview, I've written screenplays for each of the novels and am hoping to get them produced. Although the market is larger than ever these days, it is still very competitive, especially for an outsider. Alternatively, it is possible that the screenplays could be converted into a TV series and, if so, I would love to be involved.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book?
All of my books so far have been about the same main characters. The biggest challenge is devising a plot that results in their lives intersecting in an interesting and believable way. Although reading my novels requires a suspension of disbelief, nevertheless, I want the reader to imagine that what I've written could actually happen. In other words, I don't want the plots or characters to be totally divorced from reality. To achieve that effect while working with characters from such disparate backgrounds requires some effort.

If your novels require research - please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you're writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
As I mentioned in my last interview, I had to research the history of pigeon-blood red rubies and specifications for Rico's automatic of choice, the Sig Sauer, but practically everything else comes from books I've read or films I've seen that depict criminals and gangsters. So far my books have not dealt very much with Paul's law practice, but to the extent they have, obviously, I been able to draw upon my own experience as a civil trial lawyer. One small detail did require some minimal research. I wanted a conference table in Paul's law office to be made from uncommon and expensive wood. I knew nothing about the kind of wood that might fit that description. After a Google search, I came up Bocote, an exotic wood native to Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. I only used the word in one sentence, but I think it added a nice touch.

What's your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
In my last interview I mentioned the table downstairs that separates my kitchen from the family room and my study upstairs. Those haven't changed but when the weather is nice, I take a legal pad outside and work on my patio in my back yard. I have to admit, though, that I get a lot more done inside than outside.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside your genre?
In addition to those mentioned in my other interviews, I've read in my genre Lisa Scottoline (whom I met at a book conference and took a picture with), John D. MacDonald, Lou Berney (whom I met when he gave a talk at a local library), and Caleb Pirtle (who is also a fan of my work). Outside of my genre I've read Bryan Stevenson and Max Hastings (both nonfiction authors) and Carlos Luis Zafon (author of a magical novel that almost defies description) to name a few.


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