Mystery Books News is delighted to welcome Lawrence Kaplan, who is on tour this week to promote his debut novel introducing retired detective Joe Henderson, House of Ghosts.
Many readers might consider Joe the modern incarnation of Philip Marlowe--hard boiled, hard drinking, hard loving, delightfully cynical, offering wry observations of life in the age of Starbucks. He's all that and more. But is that the "real" Joe Henderson? We have a special guest today who probably knows him better than anyone.
Some call Joe Henderson a washed-up detective, says Larry Kaplan. But he was the determined powerhouse who uncovered the truths in my first novel House of Ghosts. Without him, the mystery of Paul Rothstein and the secrets of the foiled bombing raids over Auschwitz would never have been uncovered. No, as characters go, he's not easy to work with. He's ornery. Through the whole book, he smoked and drank too much. And then there was Alenia, the Russian ex-stripper he rolled around the sheets with, despite the existence of poor old Harry, her unsuspecting husband. But Alenia was at his side, taking risks to solve these mysteries too. Besides, it's a hell of a lot of fun having a stripper in my book. So I've brought them back as characters in my new book; and, I figured they should know about it.
The morning of the meeting arrived. I hate second guessing but was doing a great job of it. Having a sit-down with two of my characters seemed like a good idea when I finally made contact with Joe. After all, two words hadn’t passed between us since lowering Paul Rothstein into his new dirt condo at the conclusion of House of Ghosts. But I shouldn’t have left it to him to get in touch with Alenia with his inclination to rebel against authority and go out of his way to purposely not give a damn.
My suggestion, “Seven-fifteen at Populopulos’s hash house on North Avenue,” resulted in a typical Henderson groan of “Who in hell gets up that early? I’m a character in a stupid novel. There are no reasons to be up before noon.”
Maybe he meant it. My Timex read 7:45. I stuck a fork into my scrambled eggs.
I learned not to argue with Joe. His sessions with Dr. Headcase ended on a sour note. My writing him into a marriage with Kim might have been a bit hasty.
A happy call of “Lieutenant Joe!” floated from the speaker located above my head, the P.A.’s microphone left in the on position.
From my spot at a table in the more private section, in the rear of the standard silver chrome Jersey style diner, I could see Sebi, the owner, wrapping his arms around the man everybody loved. And naturally, they all ogled Alenia north to south, returning to that chest of hers which never failed to attract the male eye. She didn't mind. In fact, she enjoyed the attention. Modesty wasn’t a virtue listed in her character development profile.
“He’s in the back,” Sebi said.
The familiar clunk of Joe’s cane, a no-longer-used five-iron, was my only greeting. I looked up into a face that had shed an additional twenty-five pounds after the last period was placed on page 313. Kim’s weaning him off of beer was working magic. But that pack of Marlboros sticking out of his shirt pocket was evidence that her fight against North Carolina’s largest crop hadn’t achieved the objective.
Alenia sashayed down the aisle with an imperceptible ingrained stripper’s grind that threatened to knock the cheap stainless flatware off the equally cheap Formica tables.
There weren’t any smiles for me.
“You’re blanking cute,” Joe said, pulling out a chair for Alenia, whose eyes emitted a Moscow in December glare. “Same table as Driscoll, complete with the same eggs, the same whole wheat toast, and the same coffee. He didn’t wait either.”
I didn’t point out the fact that they were, by now, forty-five minutes late. FBI Special Agent Driscoll still burned his rear. The grudge would never die.
“Something to eat?” I purposefully took a gulp of my coffee.
“You know I’d love a cup of coffee, but with that stomach you gave me,” Joe said, removing a cigarette from the hard pack, “I’m on all kinds of antacids. Did I ever say thanks for nothing?” He fumbled for his prized Zippo in his pant pocket.
“I’m hungry,” Alenia said, her heavily red lipstick sticking at the corners of her mouth. “I want pancakes with much butter.” She slipped a hand into Joe’s.
“We’re not here to eat,” Joe said, defiantly withdrawing his paw. “Our Creator didn’t invite us for a social meeting. This is business.”
I had no intention of arguing the point. It wasn’t exactly business, but more of a heads up.
“How’s Harry?” I asked, stalling for time.
“Harry is Harry,” Alenia said, breathing with what she called the Russian lament. “You had to give me an old man. I told you I wanted Jozef.” She ran her hand through his fresh crew cut.
“Harry got you out of the club and put you in the lap of luxury,” I replied with an edge. “If you’re not eating, let’s get down to what Joe calls business.” I watched their eyes meet. “Put the cigarette away. There’s no smoking in restaurants anywhere in New Jersey. It’s 2009, not 2001.”
“You’re kidding,” Joe said, confusion on his face. He returned the cigarette to its cardboard coffin. “Get to the point.”
“I’m writing another novel and you both are in it,” I said, dropping the bomb.
“I want to go someplace exciting,” Alenia said, adjusting her halter top that was one size too small. “Westfield is so the same.”
“It’s a mystery with biotech, a drug that goes bad, and the Mafia’s involvement in legit business. It takes place a year before House of Ghosts with the principle location the colonial town of Westfield,” I said watching for changes in Joe’s expression and color.
I wasn’t disappointed. He became oatmeal pasty, beads of sweat lacing his brow. Alenia wrinkled her nose as if she had just smelled a skunk.
“If it takes place a year before this last travesty, then I’m going to have to get shot and nearly lose my leg,” he said, angrily banging the five-iron on the tile floor. “God damn it! A stupid cheap prequel. Am I correct?”
I nodded in the affirmative and handed them both printed copies of the final draft. “Give me your thoughts. I can still make minor changes.”
In a blur, the five-iron sent my coffee cup into my lap.
“Stick it where the sun don’t shine,” Joe said over his shoulder. “Leave me the hell alone.”
Alenia straightened the spaghetti straps on her nearly non-existent top. “Don’t worry, I’ll get him to cooperate. I have my ways with Jozef.”
Thanks so much, Larry, for the behind-the-scenes introduction to this most interesting series character.
We are thrilled to announce that Larry Kaplan is giving away a signed copy of his book, House of Ghosts, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to Larry’s book tour page, http://larry-kaplan.omnimystery.com/, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 0461, for your chance to win. Entries from Mystery Books News will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on Larry’s book tour page next week.
A very special Thank You from MBN to Lawrence Kaplan for visiting us today and sharing his unique perspective on character development. Please be sure to visit all the host sites on Larry's tour this week.
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