Today I am pleased to welcome author Ed Duncan to the blog talking about characters in his novel “Pigeon Blood Red” and Reining Rico In…
Reining Rico In – Ed Duncan.
I had been a practicing lawyer at a national law firm in Cleveland for about twenty years when the idea for a novel first came to me. I was attending a legal seminar in Honolulu and I was strolling the manicured grounds of the hotel after dinner. It was a beautiful evening, as most evenings are in Honolulu, based on my limited experience.
(I’ve since returned there once and have another visit planned in the Spring.)
Sandwiched between these two trips was a visit to Maui. I had sat on a bench to admire the lush setting and the moonlit sky when the kernel of an idea sprang to mind. What if a lawyer on holiday in Honolulu, or attending a seminar as I was, had a chance encounter with a mysterious woman who was running for her life from some unknown danger, and the lawyer, against great odds, managed to save her? The woman, of course, is both vulnerable and attractive, in addition to being innocent of any wrongdoing.
This is the basic idea from which Pigeon-Blood Red arose. Eventually I was convinced by someone at a writers’ conference I attended that the lawyer and the woman couldn’t be strangers because no one would go to the lengths the lawyer goes to or would expose himself to such danger for a total stranger. Maybe, maybe not. But I made the change. Now I needed a reason the woman was in danger and I needed an antagonist who was deadly but also smart enough to match wits with the lawyer and the woman, who I decided would be a college math professor.
The reason the woman was running for her life was that a pigeon-blood red ruby necklace (worth millions, but unknown to her) innocently came into her possession. The phrase “pigeon-blood red” lends an exotic air to the novel. That description was coined by Indian gem dealers centuries ago. It refers to the color of the first two drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly killed pigeon. Rubies with that pigmentation are the rarest and most valuable in the world.
As had the idea for the novel, the name of the antagonist came to mind without any thought on my part: Rico. It just sounded right. This is its derivation in the novel: The character’s full name is Richard Sanders. Rich is short for Richard and “rico” means rich in Spanish. Rico was the nickname given to him by some Puerto Rican kids in his neighborhood.
As I thought about the character, I wanted him to be a ruthlessly efficient hitman, but I wanted him to have a code of his own, i.e., a line he wouldn’t cross despite his vocation, and I wanted him to have a dry sense of humor. So that’s the way I wrote him.
There was a problem, however. The lawyer, Paul Elliott, was always meant to be the main character (after all, he is a highly idealized version of me!), and the woman, Evelyn Rogers, was meant to be a close second. Both have interesting back stories, but the more I developed Rico’s character, the more he fought to become the central focus of the narrative. The more I tried to rein him in, the more he resisted. Although I didn’t surrender, I like to
think we fought to a draw. By that I mean that Paul and Evelyn are at least arguably on par with Rico as the driving forces in the novel. So if the novel were turned into a movie (which I’m working on through Voyage Media in Los Angeles), I think Rico, Paul, and Evelyn would all share top billing. Incidentally, Rico has a girlfriend in the novel, Jean, a lady of the evening, and their relationship is every bit as intriguing as the relationship between Paul and Evelyn. In the movie Jean would get fourth billing.
In retrospect, Rico is in many ways an amalgam of three of my favorite movie heroes. Two appeared in westerns that were based on novels of the same name: In chronological order they are Shane, starring Alan Ladd, and Hombre, starring Paul Newman. The third is Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen. What they all have in common is that all are essentially loners and all have codes of their own. Unlike Rico, though, all three are on the right side of the law.
I didn’t start out thinking I would base Rico on these mythical characters, but the fact they he has so much in common with them probably explains why he fought so hard to be the center of attention in Pigeon-Blood Red, and why I could only fight him to a draw.
About the book:
For underworld enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, it seemed like an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss’s priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it. But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.
As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?
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