Today, I have the honor to host one great author, true fan of classic crime noir, Mr. C. M. Albrecht. He is the author of Jonas McCleary Series, three so far and I hope many more. The Sand Bluff Murders was published in 2012, The Morgenstern Murders in 2014, and The Kid Who Wasn't There Murders came out this month. A former investigator, now private eye, he brings his rich experience to his novels. Let's meet the person who created PI Jonas McCleary!
1. Can you tell our readers something about you? Who is C. M. Albrecht?
My name is C. M. Albrecht, at least on my books, but here at home, people call me Carl. They probably call me other things as well, but not to my face. I've had a varied career, going from my years as a private investigator to a restaurant operator. I always enjoyed cooking so when an opportunity came up to take over a café, I jumped on it. But juggling two jobs at the same time was strenuous, especially when I also had a feeling I'd like to sit down and write. Fortunately, I now have the leisure to read and write, and I still get in the kitchen and cook up a mean dinner.
2. Is Jonas McCleary based on you or someone you know?
Jonas McCleary, like all the characters in my books, wasn't borrowed from anyone I knew or knew about. At least not consciously. First, when I can, I lie down on the patio and daydream. Or I'll awaken at 3 in the morning and while I'm trying to get back sleep, I start "thinking". That's often how it starts. A situation begins to develop and the more I think about it, a character may begin to emerge. In my different books, as the characters develop they soon take over and sometimes it's hard for me to keep up with them. Of course a lot of these initial "great ideas" turn out to be duds.
3. Can you tell us something about your books, besides the Jonas McCleary Series?
So far, I have 13 novels. Two of my favorites are The Little Mornings and Marta's Place. These are noir novels, and while I can't get away from crime, they aren't really mysteries or detective tales. Some wise writer once said: "Ideally the ending should be a surprise, yet inevitable". I really like that idea, and I've tried to incorporate it into my novels. But achieving that isn't always easy. I'm not sure I've always succeeded, but I try. The other novels are mysteries, although, in River Road, the situation is more like a Colombo episode. The reader knows up front who the baddie is, but watching homicide detective Raf Rafferty work his way through the maze to catch him (with the help of a "medium" a new girlfriend and his trusty cat, Fido who thinks he's a dog), adds a little different twist to this one.
4. From your books, we can see that you have a very good experience with police procedurals and private investigations. Can you tell us about your previous career?
The real life of a private investigator is seldom like that of the characters in books and film. Occasionally, when a real murder case, for example, has gone cold, family may hire a private investigator to see if he/she can uncover new evidence, but by and large, catching thieving employees or tracking down missing family members, etc. make up the bulk of an investigator's work. It's not unusual however, during the course of these investigations to become acquainted with police and detectives and to gain insight into their methods.
5. Who is your favorite detective in crime fiction?
I admit, my favorite fiction detective is probably Philip Marlowe, but there are many, many others I enjoy and appreciate.
6. What is your favorite book?
My favorite book? That's a tough one. One that stands out in my mind, although not a mystery exactly, is A Coffin for Dimitrios. I found that to be a fascinating novel. But there are so many others…I love to read and have read every sort of book, from Great Expectations to sea novels, (especially U-boot novels, adventure novels. Just about everything. Seldom, but sometimes, historical novels. And I still read the works of "classical" writers; Zola, Hugo, writers of that period.
7. Who, or what inspired you to write? And why crime noir?
I'm not sure what inspired me to write. I simply began one day to feel the urge to try my hand at it. Pretty clumsy at first, I can assure you. But I didn't take any classes. Well, I attended a night class in writing for a couple of months and learned absolutely nothing. From then on, I just went with trial and error, and tried to pay close attention. What did I like in the works of others? What didn't I like about my own stuff? Little by little I worked my way into what I wanted to do, be reportorial, clear and concise. I love the poetic flights of others, Eco and Abécassis and Márquez, but I can't and never could write like that, so I don't try. Crime noir? Oh, I've always loved crime noir. I've read all the works of Cain, Woolrich, Thompson and so many others, and have always admired the down-to-earth gritty style they employed. And besides, a lot of life is just like that.
8. Would you like to describe your writing corner?
My "office" is in a spare bedroom I share with my lovely wife, Irma. I just have a modest writing table for the computer while on her side she has another desk with her own computer where she manages apartments and condos and keeps track of everything on the computer. On my side, I have a couple of bookcases filled not only with books, but all sorts of things I don't have any other place for. On the wall above, I have framed pictures of book covers and a photo of my wife and me on a cruise from a few years ago.
9. You don't use too much violence in your stories. Why?
These days, books and movies are full of violence, gutter language and what a few years ago would have been X-rated sex, and I don't really see that as a positive direction to take. In my books, I want the focus to be on the story itself, the characters and their motivations, not on the body count or sexual conquests. There's obviously a place for all that too, but it doesn’t particularly interest me.
10. I'll put some spoiler in here. You've touched on a subject that is very popular in the media these days, sex change. Tell us something about that. How did you come up with the idea to use that in your book?
These days, we've opened up the doors to same-sex relationships, trans-gender, cross-dressing and many other human characteristics that have always been with us. In the past, if people had a child that was perhaps autistic or suffered from Down's syndrome, etc., they sometimes kept it at home out of sight; their shameful secret.
For years, people who have had confused sexual orientation, had to keep their secret hidden away in the closet as well. Today, as we become more open-minded and with increased understanding, we're more willing to understand and accept that each individual is unique and there really is no "norm". (I always say, Normal is not normal.) We can no longer put people in boxes or categories and expect everyone to fit in to what we consider proper. I find it interesting sometimes to address some aspect or another of human behavior. Back in the 1964, Rex Stout took the daring step of publishing "A Right to Die", a Nero Wolfe mystery concerning a white woman who took up the cause for blacks and even took an apartment in Harlem. She planned to marry a young black man. In those days, that was a very touchy subject, but Mr. Stout handled it, and at the same time, showed us that we're all brothers and sisters no matter what the color of our skin, or country of origin.
11. Something about the end…
In the end of The Kid Who Wasn't There Murders, I wanted to tie the package up and create as far as possible, a satisfactory ending for all concerned. I certainly hope I've left no questions unanswered and the reader will come away with a good feeling about the book and the future for the McCleary family.