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Interview: June 3, 2021

Rob Leininger revived the hardboiled PI venue somewhat modeled after Travis McGee and Sam Spade, but in the humorous vein of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. GUMSHOE IN THE DARK is the fifth book in this laugh-riot-with-a-message series set in Nevada. Mort is now married to Lucy, and on the road tracking down a ne’er-do-well grandnephew unwittingly hell-bent on avoiding a $680,000 inheritance. He comes across the estranged daughter of Nevada’s attorney general, who has gone missing --- as have two local teens. In this interview, Leininger chats with’s Dean Murphy about the current Mortimer Angel adventure, Mort’s world and a typical day in Leininger’s life. It’s been almost two years since GUMSHOE ROCK. Why the elephant gestation-length period?

Rob Leininger: Unfortunately, I have no control over the publication “process” once I sign the contract. After that, it’s all up to my publisher. If it were up to me, my Gumshoe novels would be published each year like clockwork --- like most others who write series novels.

BRC: Here we have another Mortimer near-death dilemma, the perfect summer read. How has Mort evolved?

RL: In this fifth Mortimer Angel novel, Mort’s life hangs by a thread for the fifth time. Near-death experiences have given him pause and made him more wary, especially regarding unlikely events that take place around him as he eases through the world. Speaking of unlikely, Mort meets considerably more than his share of interesting (and sexy) women, not that he minds, so that ends up in the plus column. He’s starting to take that in stride because, as he says, he has “the self-control of an anvil” --- and, now, he’s married to Lucy. Still, in this fifth novel, the girl he meets, Harper Leeman, challenges his theory about anvils and self-control farther than he’s ever been challenged before. But in that plus column, Harper provides him with more room for personal growth.

BRC: Mort seems to have matured, his days as a sedate IRS agent long gone. Did finding dead bodies and body parts of the presumed deceased bring on this?

RL: Mort actually matured the moment he decided to leave the IRS after discovering he had a soul, knowing he could no longer be part of the government’s “thuggery.” But yeah, Mort is settling into his new career as a private eye, a gumshoe, to whom, in his words, “women flock (tongue in cheek) like pigeons to a statue” --- one more thing he’s learning to take in stride. If that’s maturing, then Mort definitely is. However, finding bodies and body parts, especially one such part sent to him via FedEx, is starting to wear on him. It’s not the kind of thing he wants to get used to, but he feels it must be a “karma” thing, a kind of backlash for having been an IRS thug for 16 long years. But what’s a poor gumshoe to do? It’s not as if he tries to find the bodies of missing famous people, just that the world throws them at him. It’s not his fault. Blame the IRS.

BRC: Maude “Ma” Clary (detailed in GUMSHOE FOR TWO and GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE) sends Mort on the simple task of tracking down an heir. Mort finds more of what he’s renowned for finding. And Trouble…with a capital T. What prompted this plot?

RL: I like to introduce new “girls” into my Mort novels to keep things lively. So I had Mort come across a gorgeous “minx,” Harper, in the first chapter, then the plot rolled on. I don’t plot a novel before I write it, and I don’t have the patience to write pages and pages of character stuff, like the characters’ favorite colors, food, their past, any of that, and I’ve found that it isn’t necessary. I just come up with an interesting situation, dive in and see where things go from there. The characters reveal themselves to me as I write. It’s a very organic process, a bit like I’m watching a movie and recording what I see. But if I sense that the movie is starting to stray from how I’d like it to look, I rein it in (quickly) and steer around the potholes. I’ll do that if a character says even one bit of dialogue that isn’t in character for them. One sentence, and I’ll dump it and “see” or “feel” what they should have said.

But, back to the plot. I don’t plot in advance. In chapter one, I have very little (sometimes no) idea what will happen in chapter two, and absolutely no idea at all what the end of the “movie” will look like. I start writing and trust that I can keep it going, that it will all make sense in the end. It seems to work. It’s fun.

BRC: What inspired the marriage to Lucy Landry, a brilliant natural sleuth?

RL: Mort had to marry her. She was too perfect to let her get away. But back up. In the first 20 (or so) minutes that Lucy met Mort in Tonopah, Nevada (in GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE), she told him, casually, that she was old enough to marry him without her parents’ consent, a statement that made Mort’s eyes bulge. They left Tonopah soon after that in Mort’s car, and before they’d gone 15 miles, Lucy told Mort, again in a very matter-of-fact way, that she would marry him if he asked. Right then. And from time to time she reminds him that she intends to marry him within two hours of the time he asks. Which seems perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, they’re in Nevada, with a wedding chapel or two on almost every street --- like McDonald’s or Starbucks, especially Starbucks. So what alternative did Mort have? Lucy was a one-in-10-million girl, the catch of a lifetime. No way to say no to that.

BRC: I’ve been a Mortimer Angel addict since page one of GUMSHOE. What’s in store for Mort’s next outing? Don’t keep us in the dark (pun intended).

RL: The sixth Mortimer Angel novel, GUMSHOE GONE, has been written. It’s done. It’s “in the can.” When it will be published, however, is entirely up in the air as of this writing. Sooner rather than later, I hope. But what’s in store for Mort in that novel? Uh-uh. No spoilers here, except to say it’s a typical Mort novel: bawdy, humorous, with deadly danger right around the next corner. And a huge twist that’ll…that’ll…okay, wait for it.

BRC: What makes the author tick?

RL: It can’t be money. I make less than $3 per hour writing these novels. People think authors are all rich, writing “USA Today bestselling novels.” Nope. I could make a lot more returning shopping carts to Walmart. But that wouldn’t be satisfying, so what makes me tick is writing what people like to read. I love the idea of entertaining people, taking them away from the daily grind, giving them a laugh and a hint (or more) of the risqué, and much more than a hint of danger. I love to read, especially novels of the kind I write. I like to see humor in novels, not slapstick or over-the-top humor, but a kind of subtle humor that makes characters come alive. And I like love stories in novels, not that the novels I read are love stories --- mostly I read thrillers, but a good thriller can have humor and love along with danger, even extreme danger. I write what I like to read.

BRC: Thank you for a thrilling read, and this interview. It’s open mic night. Final thoughts?

RL: Sure. As of this writing, I’m seriously considering self-publishing GUMSHOE GONE and any future Gumshoe novels --- or at least going in a “new direction,” publication-wise. A $26.95 hardcover by a relatively unknown writer (that’s me) is unlikely to ever sell many copies, which can only keep me (and Mort) unknown. The same applies to a $14.95 e-book. High prices discourage readers, which is exactly what I do not want to do. If I self-publish, I will try to keep the cost of a paperback below $10, and I’ll only charge $2.99 for an e-book. I want people to actually read the Gumshoe novels. That’s why I write. I hope it works.