Today I’m thrilled to host a guest post by my friend, Tony Knighton, Philadelphia’s only fire fighting crime writer and, I mean, he really is a fire fighter. Tony has a new book out, Three Hours Past Midnight, via Crime Wave Press, also the publishers of my first novel, Ghost Money. Three Hours Past Midnight is Tony’s second book. His first, was a terrific collection of short stories titled Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia. Three Hours Past Midnight is the story of a professional thief who teams with an old partner eager for one last score – a safe in the home of a wealthy Philadelphia politician. But they are not the only ones set on the cash. It’s on my Kindle. Read Tony’s guest post and then pick up a copy of Three Hours Past Midnight for yourself.
Take it away, Tony.
Andrew has graciously invited me to post an essay about my latest work Three Hours Past Midnight from Crime Wave Press. A novel, it is set in my hometown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and features the un-named protagonist from an earlier story of mine, ‘Mister Wonderful’.
While speaking about the Richard Stark books and Stark’s master thief Parker, crime fiction writer Eryk Pruitt said, ‘The least interesting character in the Parker books is Parker’. It makes sense. After the first story, he’s a known, consistent quantity. Parker has no arc; it’s the other characters who give the stories colour. I’ve since thought a lot about this statement and about how I approach my own work, and the nature of fiction in general.
Writing ‘Mister Wonderful’, I hadn’t set out to invent a character who would go on. I was simply writing a story and then I’d write something else. I finished that story but found I wasn’t finished with the character – I liked him too much – and set about writing another, longer story featuring the same guy. Having completed Three Hours Past Midnight, I realise that this character, like Parker, has no arc – he was not substantially changed by the circumstances. His story remains unfinished.
I would argue that few serial characters really change, that the apparent changes are contrivances. In crime fiction this is realised mostly as what I like to call ‘The Damaged Tough Guy’. There are passages detailing the protagonist suffering the loss of someone close or having seen/done too many terrible things and how he is shut down. These passages are included in service of the notion that this is a fully-formed, three-dimensional character, but they are place-holders. All the while, the reader is waiting for the story to continue.
I can imagine some readers protesting – crime fiction isn’t literature, it’s simply entertainment. My first argument is that all fiction is entertainment. If not, why else are we reading it? Yes, many great works of fiction explore deeper truths, but these also include work that is essentially genre, and besides, if it weren’t fun, nobody would read any of it. Second, the granddaddy of all literary serial characters, John Updike’s Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, is essentially the guy who peaked in high school. Through four novels and a novella in which he leaves his wife, their infant daughter dies, his wife leaves him, their house burns down, they lose the family business – even in the minds of his loved ones after his death – he never changes.
These are, I realize, bold statements, but are not intended to offend. This is simply a subject I’ve given some thought to and would welcome anyone else’s.
Grab a copy of Three Hours Past Midnight. Lemme know what you think.