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"CHARACTER IS AT THE HEART OF THE BOOK": AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER'S GORDON GREISMAN

Gordon Greisman spent most of his career at a screenwriter, specializing in TV movies and mini-series like Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel and The Bronx Is Burning. He recently made his literary debut with The Devil's Daughter, a historical private eye novel featuring Jack Coffey, a hip private investigator who takes us through the jazz clubs and back alleys of fifties New York in search of a missing mover and shaker's daughter who has fallen into the city's dark side. Mr. Greisman was kind enough to take a grilling from The Hard Word.


SCOTT MONTGOMERY: Which came first to write about: the character of Jack Coffey, his 1950s New York, or the search for The Devil’s Daughter and where it leads him?



GORDON GREISMAN: It’s a bit hard to say which came first, character, time, place, or story, when I began to think about THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER.  I grew up in New York, and though the I was a very little boy in 1957, Manhattan was a magical place to me.  My grandfather was something of a raconteur and he would take me and my brother to places like Toots Shors and jazz clubs in Greenwich Village.  He seemed to know most everybody in those joints from musicians to maitre’ds and I would sit wide-eyed eating my inevitable shrimp cocktail at Toots’ or at a table in The Village Vanguard listening to Dizzy Gillespie.

     Later, when I was a teenager, my friend Dennis’s dad was the promotional director of Time Magazine and sort of the mayor of midtown Manhattan.  We would put on our blue blazers and khaki pants and meet him for lunch at Manucci’s or 21 and gawk at celebrities and ballplayers.

     But then I’ve always been a noir fiction and film fan.  I devoured Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler when I was a kid and watched movies like The Maltese Falcon and Kiss Me Deadly late into the night.  The idea of “the moral man in an immoral universe” has always attracted me and I conceived Jack Coffey, the detective hero in THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER, as that kind of character.


S.M.: I noticed, like the book, you were the screenwriter on mini-series where the time and place are as important to the story as the characters. What draws you to those tales?


 G.G.: As I wrote above, time, which is to say period and place, are important to me, but not as important as character.  They set the context.  In my book Jack Coffey leads us through the twists and turns in the plot.  He’s the reader’s access into the storytelling, a stand-in for all of us.  He is the guy we hope to be when confronted by the moral choices the novel poses.  The atmospherics of time and place are fun to play with, but character is at the heart of the book.


S.M.: What should readers keep in mind when dealing with a specific time and place?


G.G.: It seems to me readers ought to approach stories set in the past in the same way the approach science fiction.  I’m taking them into a world they don’t really know, where the rules are not quite what they’re used to, but where fundamental morality still applies.


S.M.: Coffey has a lot of traits as the classic hard-boiled P.I., but carries a different vibe and emotion. How did you construct him?


 G.G.: I suppose the challenge in creating a character like Jack Coffey is to make him feel contemporary.  In classic noir fiction, the detective at the center of the story is stoic, never showing his emotions.  But “hardboiled” today not only seems atavistic, but pretty off-putting.  We want our heroes to be brave, but we also want to see their vulnerabilities, see them noble, but also capable of love and having their hearts broken.  


S.M.: This being your first novel, did you draw from any influences? 


G.G.: I was influenced by Hammett and Chandler certainly.  And, of course, by James Elroy.  But also by the film director Michael Mann, who I worked with in the 90s, and 50’s noir directors like Robert Aldrich and Robert Siodmak.


S.M.: Do you have any other cases planned for Jack?


G.G.: I do have another case planned for Jack.  I’m well into writing a prequel to THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER set in Los Angeles in 1951.  For the moment I’m calling it SHALLOW GLAMOUR.  

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