Today I’m very happy to be talking to Jonathan Moore all about his second novel in his loose San Francisco trilogy – The Dark Room. I loved this one. You can find a link to my review at the end.
Firstly, can we talk a little about the inspiration or original spark that started you writing not only The Dark Room but the first and last in this beautifully atmospheric loose trilogy – The Poison Artist and the forthcoming The Night Market?
Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a college student living in San Francisco, I had an idea one night for the story that would eventually become The Poison Artist. At the time, I had no idea that it would ultimately become three books—or that it would take me so long to finish the first one. But when I was 22 or 23, I wasn’t prepared to write these books. I was only thirty pages in before I realized that I was out of my depth. I came back to the story in 2013, after I’d sold my first two novels. I was more confident, and more prepared to get out and research things like police procedure and post mortem examinations. The second time around, I had an easy time writing The Poison Artist and I finished the earliest draft in just a few months. I thought that was the end of it, but when I started writing my next book, I chose San Francisco as the setting and the atmosphere took over from there. Now I have three books set in San Francisco, and I think I’m done. But you never know.
The Dark Room has a very hard hitting and utterly gripping central premise around which you have built some remarkably engaging yet often quite damaged characters – is the darker side of human nature something that completely fascinates you?
I doubt I’ll start writing romantic comedies anytime soon. And that’s not to say that I look down on anything that isn’t dark, because I don’t. I never know where my stories are going until I get there, and I’m as surprised as anyone else when I look up and discover where I’ve wound up. So yes, I guess I must have a fascination with the darker side of people. But it’s never something that I’m consciously thinking about when I sit down to write.
If I could talk about Cain for a moment – the central character at the heart of The Dark Room – whilst he comes into focus as the novel progresses, at the end we are still (or I was as a reader at least) fairly in the dark (pun unintended but there!) as to a lot of his inner soul – how do you view him now, with some distance.
One thing I’m very conscious of when I’m writing is narrative focus. The Dark Room is written in the third person, but the point of view is tightly limited to Cain. I’m a visual thinker, so most of what I write is something that you could depict on a screen. (This is all part of my plan to lure filmmakers to my books so that I can quit my day job and live on a yacht in the Mediterranean). On the other hand, that means that you’re not going to find many inner monologues and backstories in the pages I write. But the trade-off being what it is, I think it’s a more realistic way of telling a fast-paced mystery—Cain is out there trying to solve a murder, so he’s going to be thinking about ballistic reports and whether he’s being lied to, and not where he went to kindergarten or how he got along with his parents, or how he’d spend his free time (if he had any). Still, I think you’ll find plenty of clues about what kind of man he is by looking at the things he says and does on the page—how he treats his partners and his colleagues, how he interacts with authorities, how he responds to deaths of people close to him, how much sleep he gets compared to how much time he spends on the street, working. I view Cain as a good man, who’s trying to do the right thing—and who’s too busy to preach much about it.
The Poison Artist and The Dark Room both have very different yet deeply noir undertones – who would you say your biggest influences have been in the writing world?
There are so many writers whose work I love. Cormac McCarthy, for his language—if they had a prize for making existential nihilism sound good, McCarthy would win it with every book. Hemingway, for his knife-like sentences that cut right to point. Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, who had opposite ideas of what a mystery novel should strive to be, but who shared the same fascination: their protagonists grapple to make sense of their world, navigating cities that are mazes of secrets and complex relationships. In contemporary mysteries, I adore Michael Connelly. He’s never written a disappointing book, and you can feel the layers of research and care that go into his stories.
Are you able to tell us a little about The Night Market?
The Night Market is the final piece of my San Francisco project. It is a murder mystery set fifty years after the events in The Poison Artist and The Dark Room, but it pulls in elements from both of those stories. Each one of these books stands alone, and each one has a slightly different tone. If The Poison Artist is an erotic psychological drama, and The Dark Room is a fast police procedural, then the The Night Market is a near-future, dystopian noir. Of the three, it’s my favourite.
Finally, a question I always ask, is there anything that you have read recently that you would personally like to recommend to others?
Perfidia, by James Ellroy. But if you haven’t already read his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, White Jazz and L.A. Confidential), start there.
About the Book:
Gavin Cain, an SFPD homicide inspector, is in the middle of an exhumation when his phone rings. San Francisco’s mayor is being blackmailed and has ordered Cain back to the city; a helicopter is on its way. The casket, and Cain’s cold-case investigation, must wait. At City Hall, the mayor shows Cain four photographs he’s received: the first, an unforgettable blonde; the second, pills and handcuffs on a nightstand; the third, the woman drinking from a flask; and last, the woman naked, unconscious, and shackled to a bed. The accompanying letter is straightforward: worse revelations are on the way unless the mayor takes his own life first. An intricately plotted, deeply affecting thriller that keeps readers guessing until the final pages, The Dark Room tracks Cain as he hunts for the blackmailer, pitching him into the web of destruction and devotion the mayor casts in his shadow.
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