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Interview: December 7, 2016

Matt Coyle revived the Raymond Chandler hardboiled PI model, set in today’s tony La Jolla suburb of San Diego. In DARK FISSURES, Rick Cahill tries to right wrongs by proving that singer Brianne Colton’s estranged husband didn’t commit suicide, but Rick violates a cardinal rule: romantic involvement with a client, and it appears that Brianne’s husband had contacted the FBI shortly before his death. Moreover, Police Chief Tony Moretti targets Rick as a murder suspect. All the while Rick faces mortgage foreclosure, in the most complex installment of this thrilling, award-winning series. In this interview, Coyle chats with’s Dean Murphy about the development of protagonist Rick, the many awards he has earned, and the specialists who have been instrumental in making the Cahill series an astounding success. You’ve created in Rick Cahill one of the best contemporary underdog private investigators. What inspired this rough-and-tumble character?

Matt Coyle: Thank you for the compliment. I didn’t have Rick right away. He was there, but I didn’t really know who he was until I was about a third of the way through the first of many drafts of what would become my first novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO. I was stuck and started revising the beginning when a line that would become the first sentence of the book broke through my subconscious and onto the page: The first time I saw her, she made me remember and she made me forget. I needed to find what good had been in this character’s life that he’d forgotten and what bad was there that he couldn’t let go. Once I started investigating Rick’s past, I realized I had a much darker character and darker book than I was presently writing. I’m happy the line came to me and led me down the mean streets of Rick’s mind. The more I write him, the more I learn about what made him who he is.

BRC: How much of Rick Cahill is derived from Matt Coyle?

MC: Not much. He’s younger, taller and better looking. We do share a cynical view on life. His is well-earned. Mine, probably not. I’ve experienced loss in my life, as anyone my age has, but nothing compared to Rick. However, I can impart the real emotion I’ve felt during my own hard times when I’m writing him. The circumstances may be wildly different, but the emotions are the same.

BRC: Rick seems to attract nefarious characters, some with enough influence to cause harm. Will he ever catch a break?

MC: Rick might drop the break if someone tossed it to him because he’s so obstinate. However, he does catch a break in DARK FISSURES. It doesn’t make up for everything else, but it comes at a good time. It’s life-changing in one way, but not in others.

BRC: Antagonists in DARK FISSURES seem to have the upper hand.

MC: Rick’s antagonists know more than he does and have much more power. He’s an outsider in almost any situation. He lives by his own code of justice, which often puts him on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of power and influence. Thus, he’s always starting in a hole. He’s not the smartest guy or the toughest, but he’s tenacious and resilient. You have to break his jaw to get the bone out of his mouth. Rick will always be an underdog because he has a well-earned distrust of power structures. He never wants to play on their team. If you’re always playing the 1927 Yankees, you’re always going to start from behind.

BRC: What life lessons has Rick learned from the first three installments?

MC: Rick is a bit stuck and hasn’t learned much. He’s in the slow process of learning from his own mistakes. He’s learning that his gut isn’t always right. That’s a scary reality for someone who relies so much on his instincts. He’s also learning that he has to let go of his past. That is taking a lot of time. Finally, he’s learning that he can’t save the world alone…or save it at all.

BRC: YESTERDAY’S ECHO was the series debut, and took home the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. What other accolades have you earned?

MC: YESTERDAY’S ECHO also won the Ben Franklin Silver Award, the San Diego Book Award, was nominated for a Macavity Award, and was a Deadly Pleasures Magazine favorite book of the year. My second book, NIGHT TREMORS, was a favorite book of the year. Thanks for that! It was also nominated for the Anthony, Shamus and Lefty Awards. Alas, I went Susan Lucci for all three.

BRC: Why does Rick become romantically involved with Brianne? He didn’t have much luck with Melody Malana, from YESTERDAY’S ECHO.

MC: Well, he’s not a monk. Brianne is beautiful, talented and capable. That’s a sexy combination. While he tries to adhere to his rule of not falling for a client, he finds that life-and-death circumstances can magnify emotions and make rules obsolete.

BRC: Without giving away too much, what’s Rick’s next adventure?

MC: Rick will finally learn the truth about his disgraced father who was kicked off the police force. I lost my own father while I was writing this book. It was already a very personal story for Rick and became a more poignant one for me.

BRC: You honored SEALs (SEa Air Land, the US Navy military special forces team). How do these team members, and other specialists, enhance the reader’s experience?

MC: I’m fortunate to find professionals who’ve been willing to provide expertise regarding specific situations in all my books. The fantastic insight I’ve been lucky enough to gain from these folks has been useful for getting things right in the story. In DARK FISSURES, however, my conversations with a Navy SEAL did help me learn how a SEAL might react in different situations. That was invaluable.

BRC: Please describe your typical day.

MC: I work from home and start my day job about 6:30am. I’ll work until about 3:30pm, then walk my dog and decompress a bit. I usually start writing around 5:30 and go until 8:30 or 9:00. Eating dinner after I finish writing isn’t good for the waistline, but I don’t like to interrupt writing time.

BRC: Thanks for sharing. We look forward to the next installment.