Saturday, January 1, 2011

Interview: Author John Lescroart

Novel: Damage 
By Mark Young
Injustice takes to the streets in author John Lescroart’s latest novel, Damage, another captivating legal thriller. A powerful San Francisco family tries to wield their money, influence and power to cripple efforts by law enforcement and courts as a killer is released pending re-trial.  And if all else fails, this wealthy family might not be above a little murder and witness intimidation.

Readers should not get complacent in this novel,thinking they have the plot all figured out. Stop and take a moment to reflect—remember who created this story. John Lescroart fans know this author’s plots never turn out as imagined. Damage, scheduled for release January 4, 2011, continues this path of unexpected twists and turns.

Publishers Cliff and Theresa Curtlee, backed by their family-run newspaper, are thrilled when their son—Ro, a convicted serial rapist and killer—is released after serving 10 years of a twenty-five to life conviction.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a reversal of Ro’s case by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, sending Ro’s case back to San Francisco for re-trial. Recently elected district attorney Wes Farrell faces the full brunt of the Curtlee’s power as he decides whether to re-try this case.

Other Lescroart characters—Lieutenant Abe Glitsky, heading up the city’s homicide detail, and prosecutor Amanda Jenkins, among others—bear their own scars from Ro’s previous trial, each harboring personal motives to send this criminal back to prison. Each character—drawn among ranks of police and prosecutors—are tempted to cross the line at times to make sure justice is achieved. In the meantime, more people start dying as everyone jockeys for position in this legal free-for-all. It is John Lescroart at his best.

MARK: John, thanks for rejoining us here on Hook’em and Book’em to discuss your latest novel. For Lescroart fans like myself, part of the enjoyment of reading your novels is the ability to renew old friendships with such characters as Abe Glitsky and Wes Farrell. What other characters emerge in this story from your past novels?

JOHN:  Damage was a lot of fun because I got to bring back some of my old pals.  First, of course, as you point out, were Glitsky and Farrell.  But then I also bring back Amanda Jenkins, the assistant DA from Guilt, who we get to see in an completely different light. 
Then I’m also finding that a homicide inspector, Darrell Bracco, keeps wanting to stick his face in these stories, and so he plays a small but meaningful role.  I also enjoy bringing Dismas Hardy into this story as a bit, rather than a lead, player.  He’s got a very good and, as it turns out, extremely important role, in this book, and I think it’s a lot of fun seeing him in this limited cameo appearance.  Finally, let’s not forget Wes Farrell’s girlfriend Sam, and last but not least, their dog Gert. 

MARK: For readers who might not have the opportunity to know these characters, tell us a little about the history of Glitsky, Farrell and other familiar characters reappearing on the pages of Damage.

JOHN:  Glitsky and Farrell go way back.  They first appeared together in A Certain Justice, very much as antagonists, who by the end of the book have learned to respect, and possibly even like, one another.  In Guilt, their relationship is tried and brought nearly to the breaking point as Farrell defends a client whom Glitsky arrested, and whom Glitsky hates.  Over the next several books, Farrell and Glitsky are in orbit around the larger character of Dismas Hardy as part of the ongoing fugue of these San Francisco novels.  The events of Damage bring them back together as dueling protagonists, each with his own agenda, each trying to do the right thing, and each having trouble staying out of the other’s way.

MARK: The City of San Francisco has always been rich with literary and real-life political intrigue. Have you based the story of Damage upon any particular events in the Bay area, or is this novel drawn from a broader perspective?

JOHN:  San Francisco’s radical politics forms a great deal of the story of Damage, so much so that the city is almost a character in itself.  In the first place, Ro Curtlee, a convicted rapist/murderer, could probably never have been let out of jail with bail in any other city, and that is the event that gets the story going.  This circumstance is based on a real case that occurred in San Francisco a few years ago, where a rapist/murderer’s conviction was overturned by the SF-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.  (In real life, the US Supreme Court overturned this decision; but in my book, Ro Curtlee gets out on bail.)  Then I’ve got a columnist for the city’s #2 newspaper, Sheila “Heinous” Marrenas, whose far-left, anti-police lunacy in print raises the political stakes for all of the forces for justice.  So I’d have to say that this is an only-in-San Francisco story, and all the better for it.   

MARK: One of the axioms of conflict for novelist: take the character, identify what that character would never consider, then force that character into that situation. For example, the incorruptible cop—who would never take a bribe—confronting a situation in which his desperately ill loved one needs money for life-saving treatment. You do a great job of creating dilemmas like this throughout your novels. How do you go about taking one of your characters and creating soul-torturing conflicts?

JOHN:  Well, a great example in this book is my character, Abe Glitsky.  Glitsky is head of the homicide department in San Francisco and a stickler for due process:  his mandate is to supervise his inspectors and ensure that arrests are made properly.  He also internalizes this straight and narrow approach in his private life.  Well then, what is he to do when Ro Curtlee comes to his house and threatens his wife and child?  How he responds to this dilemma is one of the central conflicts in this book – the situation creates an almost untenable, and unbearably tense, crisis – both personally and professionally.  Fun stuff.

MARK: All of your novels tend to be theme driven as mentioned during the interview with us last May. It appears that exploitation of immigrants seems to be the emerging theme in this current novel, Damage? What prompted you to choose this subject matter?

JOHN:  As everyone knows, the immigration question in this country is hugely controversial, and couldn’t be more timely.  Keeping one’s antenna out for topics with big and complex themes is one of the main jobs a writer has if he or she is trying to remain relevant and up-to-date, so immigration was in my mind almost as soon as the ghost of this story began to emerge.  Once it became clear to me that Ro Curtlee’s crime was rape and murder, it seemed to me that making his victims all immigrant workers leant an immediacy and verisimilitude to the story that I couldn’t get any other way.   This is a perfect example of how a theme rises to the forefront out of the plot of a story, enriching both.

MARK: Among your many talents—aside from writing—music appears to be one of your passions. On your web site is a link to Crow Art Records, a subsidiary of your corporation. What part does music play in your writing and your life? How did you arrive at the name of your recording studio?

JOHN:  Music has always been a big part of my life, so much so that sometime in my early twenties, I decided to become a full-time performer as a singer/songwriter/guitarist.  For about six years, I performed solo in the US and Europe, and then returned to the Bay City to start Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band.  But by the age of thirty–in fact, on exactly my 30th birthday– I decided that I’d given music a good try, but it didn’t look like it was going to be my life.  So I stopped performing.  Nevertheless, music is an incurable virus.  During my children’s early years, I started singing and playing at their schools, in their classes – a lot of Raffi material and some originals, too.  Then, about ten years ago, I met Rick Montgomery, a phenomenal musical talent who’d played with the Davis Grisman quintet, Stephane Grappeli, and many other greats.  Rick and I became friends and we decided to put out a few records just for the fun of it – my old and new tunes, and a couple of CDs of other talented people we knew – Joe Craven, Antonio Castillo de la Gala, Heath Walton.  The Crow Art label name came from my last name, which is so frequently butchered.     

MARK: Back to Damage, my interest perked up a notch when a couple of your bad guys visited the Tadich Grill in San Francisco. This place brings back great memories for me—and the place offers excellent San Francisco-style cuisine for those visiting the city. Is this a place you like to frequent?

JOHN:  You said it.  One of the greatest things about writing stories set in San Francisco is that I’ve got to keep up on my restaurants.  I consider it my solemn duty to my readers.  So I hang out a lot at as many places as I can: Tadich’s, Sam’s, Boulevard, Le Central, Plouf, the Ferry Building, Gaspare’s, the Little Shamrock bar, the Balboa CafĂ©, and many many others.  It’s one of the great perks of living in the city and writing about it.

MARK: I have only one problem with this great novel, John. You have one of the bad guys wearing an Oakland Raiders jacket, a team that I’ve staunching supported for many years. Now, I know it is too late to undue this damage, but in the future could you have a good guy wearing an Oakland jacket to even things out—or are you one of those die-hard 49er fans?

JOHN:  Not so much a die-hard Niner fan as a guy who’s been to a few tailgate parties before Raiders games, and let me tell you, you’re better off if you go to these things wearing Kevlar and seriously armed.  So if I’m going to have a bad guy wearing a team jacket, just in the interest of keeping things real, it’s probably going to be a Raider jacket next time as well. 
Readers can find out more about John Lescroart and his writing career at his web site or from his interview here last May when he discussed details about his writing life and his journey as a novelist.


  1. Hey guys, I'm a Lescroart fan and mystery fan in general. I'm also a word freak. Why do so many novels (and blogs) have typos and plain-out incorrect word usage and grammar and and dumb spellings? Is it the editor, the writer or the proofreader? Can't we clean this up please?

  2. Lady L ... Just came online, after five days in digital darkness, and read your comments. I appreciate your candid observations. The editor (me) will continue to try and improve this blog. It is a work in progress. I am always glad to communicate with a John Lescroart fan. I know you will enjoy his latest novel ... Mark.