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Dwyer Murphy's The Stolen Coast is a cockeyed, humanist take on the hard boiled tale of a heist, fem fatale and laconic man drawn to both. Jack, a man who helps hide and move people on the run with his father, an ex secret agent. A lady from his past comes in with a an idea to lift some jewels and draws him in. Murphy takes this set up and shades it with a believable and human take. Dwyer took some time for us to interrogate him on the book and his approach to it.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY: What came first, the character of Jack and his profession or the plot he gets involved in?

DWYER MURPHY: The character – and the town he's inextricable from – came first. The town where I grew up in Massachusetts has a reputation as a place where people often go to disappear. That was something I had known about for a long time, and I began thinking about more organized version of that phenomenon: a haven for fugitives. From there I began thinking about the kind of people who would necessarily be at the heart of an operation like that, which is how I landed on Jack. He's somebody who lives in morally ambiguous terrain, but there's a strange sensitivity to him, which of course leaves him vulnerable, however cynical he might like to think himself in other circumstances. So that weakness of his – or an openness, maybe – is how he gets involved in various plots and heists. He's a crook with a romantic streak, operating in a stylized, romanticized environment, apart from it and yet also moving through its center. S.M.: You're incredibly well read in the genre and this book plays off many of the tropes. Did any books or films serve as an influence?

D.M.: Casablanca was the first and most obvious influence here – a town full of people who have been pushed to the edge of a continent, physically and metaphorically, who all have their own quiet dreams and desperations floating around, and they all go to the same café. And then I was working in the heist genre, too, so I was looking to Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block for inspiration, as well as a few decades worth of great movies, Dassin's Rififi foremost among them, for me anyway. Elmore Leonard is never far from mind when I'm working, and I was also watching the adaptations – especially, Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Soderbergh's Out of Sight – to learn how to deal with all these operators and hustlers dancing around each other. And then for some reason I can't quite explain I was reading a strange mixture of Patricia Highsmith, Alan Furst, Larry McMurtry, and Patrick Modiano right before I started in on this book, and somehow that pushed me in a new direction. S.M.: Jack and his father have an interesting relationship that really gets exposed in their last encounter. How did you approach them as father and son? D.M.: Honestly that was sort of a stylized vision of my own relationship with my father, who was a career bookseller with a background in intelligence work. We've always been close – I often felt like he understood me better than I understood myself as I was growing up – and it was a lot of fun and a great challenge to try bringing some of our peculiarities onto the page. S.M.: Is there a reason for first name only heroes? D.M.: Since this is a novel of shifting identities, I like the idea of fungible names, things that can be tossed aside or used operationally and then discarded. In my mind, everyone in this book is going by a codename or an alias. Nobody can be trusted, and that breeds, among them, a kind of respect and whimsy and hopefulness – that possibility that tomorrow you might be someone else entirely. S.M: Setting plays a very important part in your books. What do you do to bring a place to life on paper?

D.M.: I try to focus on conjuring up an atmosphere that's at once sinister and full of life. Whenever a play is being made, a hustle or a crime unfolding, somewhere in the background or off to the side, other lives are simply carrying on. That's why, I suppose, there's so much dancing and music and cooking in my books. For my own tastes, in a book or a movie, I value atmosphere above all else. I want to create worlds that might feel a little dangerous or unsure, yet people will want to spend time there, because ultimately they're fun and vibrant. And in this case, in particular, I have great affection for my hometown. I wanted to bring a little of its magic to the page. S.M.: You've done New York City and seaside Massachusetts. You've been living lately in Florida, a state that's produced a lot of great crime fiction. Do you plan on using it? D.M.: Florida is so bizarre and vibrant and a world of shifting identities and schemers--how could I not use it? My next book will be set in another coastal town in New England, but in anticipation of the book after that, I'm already immersing myself in some great Florida crime fiction (Willeford, John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Vicki Hendricks, Carl Hiaasen, among many, many others) and paying very close attention to my new surroundings.


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