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Interview: July 13, 2023

Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of 32 novels, including six in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. SLEEPLESS CITY marks the debut of Nick Ryan, who is the most powerful cop in New York (even though he doesn’t wear a uniform). He's the mayor's fixer, who is called upon when the men and women who protect and serve are in trouble and need protection themselves. In this interview conducted by Michael Barson, Senior Publicity Executive at Melville House, Coleman talks about his various inspirations for his latest protagonist; the hands-on research that he did for this book, which kicks off his fifth series; and his thoughts on how the publishing industry has changed over the last 25 years.

Question: SLEEPLESS CITY is your 32nd novel, covering multiple books divided among four previous series. Is it safe to say that you have planned for this Nick Ryan adventure to be the first entry in a fifth series? And if so, might you still return to one of your previous four series one day?

Reed Farrel Coleman: Yes, the second Nick Ryan novel, BLIND TO MIDNIGHT, is already completed. It’s always difficult to leave favorite series completely behind. While I have said everything I had to say in my Moe Prager novels, my readers love Moe so much that I have occasionally returned to him as a short story protagonist. And I have completed a third Gus Murphy novel, ALL BURIED THINGS. But we haven’t discussed how we’re going to proceed with getting that one out there. One positive side effect of the pandemic was that I finished three novels during those otherwise difficult years.

Q: Nick Ryan is the archetypal outsider figure, supremely capable but afflicted by numerous demons that are only gradually revealed to the reader. In creating Nick, were you invoking any characters who inspired you during your formative days of reading noir fiction?

RFC: The funny thing about my reading habits was that I didn’t read crime fiction during my formative years. I was a poetry reader, a literary reader, and more of a sci-fi guy. I was more likely to read Camus than Cain or Asimov than Agatha. To me, crime fiction was represented by those cheesy paperbacks on my dad’s nightstand with lurid covers of half-naked women holding guns. I came to crime fiction late after taking a class at Brooklyn College called American Detective Fiction. After that, I was smitten.

As to Nick, I think of him as the classic outsider but with insider knowledge. Some early readers have made reference to him as an urban James Bond or Jack Reacher. While I am certainly honored and humbled by those allusions, that’s not exactly who Nick is. As you state in your question, he has vulnerabilities that make him less of a “superhero” type than either Bond or Reacher. As I wrote him, I thought of a character as cool as Steve McQueen in Bullitt, as easily hurt as Philip Marlowe in THE LONG GOODBYE, and as fierce and loyal as Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter.

Q: What kind of research did you have to do for SLEEPLESS CITY that was different from what you conducted for any of your previous 31 novels? Did writing this book present a particular challenge of any sort?

RFC: Research. What’s that? My job is to make stuff up, and I have always tried not to get bogged down in the technical aspects of the genre. No info dumps for me.

Of course, like any good crime/thriller writer, my Google searches on weaponry, murder, terrorism, explosives and poisons have probably gotten me onto several governmental watch lists. So, yes, I had to research handguns, sniper rifles and the like. Certain aspects of the novel led me to people --- one a trauma room physician, the other a corrections officer. These two people gave me invaluable insight into two crucial plot points in the novel, points that simply reading on the subjects could never have lent the texture I needed. I guess what I’m saying is that I prefer human research and experience to book research. I hope it shows in my work.

Q: You have been either the winner of, or a nominee for, virtually every major award that exists in the world of crime fiction. That qualifies you to make this pick: Which decade would you name as being the greatest for mystery authors and novels?

RFC: That’s a great question with no winning answer…or, rather, many winning answers. I think you could make an argument for every decade from the 1930s until the 2020s, because
crime/mystery/thriller fiction has the great dichotomy of classic story and reinvention. It’s always the same and always different.

Q: You have been a published novelist for over 25 years now. The industry you entered operated in a much different manner than it does in 2023. Name one of the changes to book publishing since your career began that you most rue, and the one that actually gives you the most hope.

RFC: I think my answer about the change I rue would mirror almost every other experienced author who answers this question: consolidation. When I tried to get my first novel, LIFE GOES SLEEPING, published in 1990 (rejected 40 times, by the way, before it was accepted), there were what seemed like an endless array of independent or semi-independent imprints, each with their own standards and quirks --- some, happily, didn’t require agenting. That gave a new author hope that he could catch on with someone, that there was an editor out there in this vast sea of imprints who got what you were doing or saw the potential you had.

Now things are all under the aegis of four or five conglomerates run by people who answer not to readers or to writers, but to stockholders. I once described old world publishing as a cottage industry run on a big scale. Alas, those days are gone.

What gives me hope is the diversity in the industry. When I was the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, we tried very hard not only to broaden the appeal of the genre but to engage writers of color and women. What we ran up against was not a problem on our end. So, while I rue the march toward consolidation of the big houses, I love that they have now opened their doors and broadened their scopes in terms of who and what they publish.