Mar has written three suspense-mysteries and is just putting the finishing touches on a fourth one. The first two, No Dice and Rip-Off, are both Detective Dave Mason mysteries set in Santa Monica, California. I was fortunate to edit Mar’s last two novels: Rip-Off and Payback, a suspense-mystery set in the mountains of California.
Rip-Off was recently released, and, since I read it and loved it, I wanted to ask Mar a few background questions about the making of this fast-paced page-turner full of suspense, quirky and nasty characters, and international intrigue.
JR: How did you choose to write about something so foreign to you and your Santa Monica locale as Chechen organized crime?
Mar P: For decades, I was an academic researcher at the University of Southern California. All that time I was slowly veering towards the dark side to contrast my rather dry academic life. I lived in Santa Monica, and my first mystery, No Dice, explored its lively political landscape. Dave Mason, my cop, works homicide with the Santa Monica PD.
JR: Where exactly is Santa Monica, and is it really a hotbed of crime?
Mar P: Santa Monica is an eight-square-mile upscale beach city on the balmy shores of Los Angeles. In fact, it’s the place Raymond Chandler called Bay City so many years ago. No, there aren’t a lot of gun battles or gang shoot-outs here. I can't remember where the idea came from to write about Chechen organized crime in my second mystery, Rip-Off. But for the purposes of the story, I needed to raise the stakes.
JR: Before editing Rip-Off, I had barely heard about Chechnya. Where is it, anyway?
Mar P: Chechnya is small country located in the mountains of southeastern Europe. A breakaway republic of Russia, Chechnya has been at the mercy of every invader throughout history that swept across the mountains to devastate its people. It struggles to build the infrastructure of government, law and order, but often loses out to organized crime because crime offers jobs. Those who can, leave. And, of course, not all Chechens are criminals.
JR: How did you prepare to write about this?
Mar P: I’m not sure I prepared. I did the research on a need-to-know basis. Yet once I started burrowing down internet rat holes, it was difficult to stop. Like all writers, I was curious. Do a search for Chechen news sites and you'll see what I mean.
JR: How did you get the speech of the characters to sound so authentic?
Mar P: I set up a Google Alert, read cultural histories, and what novels and accounts I could find in English. For years I read regional newspaper accounts about Chechnya, its wars with Russia, and its increasing fundamentalism. Gradually, individual characters came forward and I began to hear them talk in my mind. No, I am not schizophrenic. Most writers do this.
I heard their stories and the way they speak in the comments they post following pieces in many of the Chechen news sites. The kinds of errors people make writing in English are the kinds of errors they make in speech as well. For example, I saw they commonly left out the definite article “the”
before a noun. I notice this is common to Farsi speakers as well—and probably many other non-native English speakers.
JR: How did you manage to give the reader the necessary background to follow the story without a lot of info dumps?
Mar P: Here are some tricks I used to work in background: Mason reads police reports and he strikes up conversation with a visiting Moscow police official. He meets with an academic at UCLA. I tried to integrate the expository pieces with Mason's need to know as well.
JR: The stakes were high in Rip-Off, with several levels of law enforcement involved, at times almost coming to blows with each other!
Mar P: Yes, Mason isn’t the only law enforcement official who’s interested in the international criminals strolling Santa Monica’s “mean streets.” SMPD butts up against the FBI, whose cases are often trumped by the authority of the Homeland Security. Everybody wants a grab at the credit when Mason solves the case.
Fortunately, these entities only intersect in a couple of scenes at the end of the book. That meant hundreds more hours burrowing down into websites looking for up-to-the minute glimpses into how the FBI and Homeland Security relate.
JR: Was it depressing or tedious doing all that research for the book?
Mar P: No, I loved every minute.
JR: So do you think all those hours of research were necessary to make your book realistic?
Mar P: I'll let the readers decide on reading Rip-Off.
JR: It was a pleasure working on this great story with you, Mar! And the most recent one, Payback, too!
Mar P: Thanks for the interview, Jodie. And I want to thank you for catching the many glitches, times out of sequence, and point of view shifts in both Rip-Off and Payback. Neither would have been as good a book without your clever eye.
To find out more about the amazing Mar Preston and her crime fiction novels, visit her website at www.MarPreston.com, and her blog at http://marpreston.com/blog/.
To order Rip-Off from Amazon, click here.