Wednesday, April 7, 2010

9mm interview: Jack Kerley

As I noted recently, I have now launched a new series feature for the Crime Watch blog - 9mm: quickfire interview will consist of the same nine quesions (9 MurderMystery questions) put to an ongoing series of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors.

The series kickstarted with an international flavour, with the very first 9mm interview being with Lee Child, who is touring New Zealand next week, in support of his 14th and latest Jack Reacher novel, 61 HOURS. You can read that first 9mm interview here. The second in what I hope will grow into a great series of interesting author interviews, was with #1 bestselling New Zealand thriller writer Paddy Richardson. You can read that interview here.

And since the launch of the series a fortnight ago, I have interviewed several other New Zealand and international crime and thriller writers - and those interviews will be released on this blog in the coming weeks.

Today, the 9mm interview subject is Jack Kerley, the author of the acclaimed Alabama-set Carson Ryder series.

I 'discovered' Kerley and his Carson Ryder books early last year when a copy of THE HUNDREDTH MAN caught my eye on a bookstore discount table. I quickly became very glad I happened to browse that bookstore that day, as for me, Kerley was one of my best 'finds' of 2009.

THE HUNDREDTH MAN (which I gave 4 1/2 stars in a review for Good Reading) is one of the best debuts I've read in the past decade. I have since read all of the Carson Ryder books (which continue to show a high standard of storytelling), and am currently eagerly waiting on my copy of Kerley's latest release, LITTLE GIRLS LOST, to arrive.

If you haven't checked out a Jack Kerley book (his latter titles go under the name J.A. Kerley), then I recommend you do. Especially if you are a fan of crime fiction that balances a well-evoked setting, interesting and unique characters, good dialogue, and exciting plot, while tending toward the darker/grittier end of the spectrum (ala Michael Connelly, Mark Billingham, etc).

But for now, I'll leave you with Jack Kerley himself:

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Dave Robicheaux, the detective created by James Lee Burke. Afflicted by various demons, drives, and a fierce desire for justice, Robicheaux is a complex character who deepens further as the series progresses. Right on Robicheaux’s heels would be John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?Wonderful question. This goes way back: The Bobbsey Twins at Snow Lodge. I was seven or eight, I expect. The book nailed me with individuated characters, a dark and mysterious plot, and shadowy, snow-strewn settings I can picture to this day. It was like watching a 3-D movie in my head, and somewhere within the book I became a reader for life.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything;) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?My debut novel, THE HUNDREDTH MAN, was the third written, but first published. Like many aspiring writers, it took a lot of rising at four a.m. to work on fiction before my day job of writing advertising copy, and I generated three-and-a-half novels before “discovery.” By the time the debut hit the shelves I’d also had a couple of short stories published in literary venues.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?I have a mountainside cabin in eastern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, a kind of densely forested Grand Canyon on a reduced scale. The hiking is magnificent there, and I have a trout stream bordering the property, perfect for my angling needs. I also enjoy biking, cooking, collecting strange and whimsical folk art, and recently, woodworking. I’m still trying to cut a decent dovetail, so it’ll be a while until I start generating furniture.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?Hometown and current address is Newport, Kentucky. When I was a kid it was called the “Sin City of the South,” owing to wide-open gambling controlled by the infamous Cleveland Mob. After wandering Monmouth Street at night and imagining men dressed like Sky Masterson, visitors should sit on the levee overlooking the Ohio River (Cincinnati is on the other side) and watch quarter-mile-long barges rumble up and down the river. Very soothing.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’m sure George Clooney is desperate for the role. Even though there’s no resemblence save for eye color, he’s a fellow Kentuckian from another river town, Augusta, about forty miles upriver. George would be familiar with the odd cast of heros and misfits — locally called “river rats”-- needed for the movie’s supporting characters. When in advertising I occasionally wrote commercial scripts for Nick Clooney, George’s dad and a local media personality, so perhaps synchronicity favours the casting choice.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?Tough question and I’ll say the second in the series, The Death Collectors. It allowed me to combine a grim fascination—the Manson Family—with something I love, Art. I began imagining the circumstances had Manson been a supremely talented painter with a cadre of followers indulging his every savage whim. The story pushed my research into a very real and spooky realm: people who collect serial-killer art, “murderabilia” being the neologism.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I’d written fiction for years without so much as a nod or a nickel. Then, within the span of a two weeks in 2003, I …
  1. took first-prize in a short story competition, winning a free week at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference
  2. had another short story accepted in a highly regarded literary publication,
  3. acquired a literary agent and,
  4. garnered a book deal in both the US and UK.
It was an onslaught of Dreams Come True, and my initial reaction was a kind of glorious numbness, until I recovered enough to run out and buy a celebratory fly rod.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival ?
Last year I was speaking at a local library when a woman in the audience introduced herself as a fellow student from elementary-school days. Somehow she still had an eight by ten photo of our fourth grade class. When she passed it to me, the faces came alive in my hands and I went tumbling back in time, breathless. A very fine moment, indeed.
Thank you Jack Kerley. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
So what do you think of Jack Kerley's answers? Have you read any of his Carson Ryder thrillers? If so, what did you think? Do they sound appealing? Feedback, thoughts, and comments greatly appreciated.


  1. Craig - Thanks for sharing this interesting interview with Kerley. I found it interesting how Kerley's been influenced by real crime events like the Manson killings; I think most authors are affected that way, and it can add realism to their writing.

  2. I enjoyed Jack's answers. I'll have to hunt out some of his books.

  3. They're a very good series of books that I've thoroughly enjoyed, and not just for Carson Ryder. His is-he-or-isn't-he-a-psychopathic-killer brother, Jeremy, is my favourite literary villain in many a year.

  4. Read them all..addicted would describe the need..waiting for the next fix..write faster, jack