CHARLES SALZBERG is the author of the Shamus Award-nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair (re-release Nov. 2016), Devil in the Hole (re-release Nov. 2016), Triple Shot (Aug. 2016), and Swann’s Way Out (Feb. 2017). His novels have been recognized by Suspense Magazine, the Silver Falchion Awards, the Beverly Hills Book Award and the Indie Excellence Award. He has written over 25 nonfiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Life and Zany Times, with Soupy Sales. He has been a visiting professor of magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, and he teaches writing at the Writer’s Voice and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a founding member.
Q&A with Charles Salzberg
Henry Swann is a classic amateur detective, but in “Swann’s Way Out,” your fourth book in the series, he’s really starting to get his bearings. How has his detective style changed since the first book, “Swann’s Last Song?”
For one thing, he’s a little more sure of himself now in terms of gathering information and putting that information together so it forms a logical pattern. Swann doesn’t really solve crimes as much as he makes sense of them, while at the same time, he grapples with his personal demons—the untimely death of his wife, his neglect of his son, his inability to set down roots. As someone who has for years lived on the margins of society, he’s trying to carve out a solid life for himself, one with connections to other people. And in an odd way, he makes up for real family by surrounding himself with friends like Goldblatt and Klavan. In short, his work has helped him adjust better to life, not that he still doesn’t feel like a complete fraud and outsider, as do most of us.
The mysteries in this book happen in three different locations. Was it difficult to tie them all together?
Not at all. In fact, it’s fun shifting the action from place to place. It gives the book a sense of movement and working with several plots at the same time I think is an added element that forces the reader (and me) to pay closer attention. It also adds to the sense of disorientation and alienation Swann suffers from. He never really feels “at home” anyplace, and so moving around mirrors his psychological disconnection.
As your fourth book in the Henry Swann series, are there any things that surprised you about Henry as a character in the latest book?
Everything surprises me about Swann. I don’t go into these books with a “plan.” They’re not plotted out and not only don’t I ever know what’s going to happen, I also don’t know what characters are going to appear and when they do what role they’re going to play in the story. Besides, he’s not the kind of character who does much planning about his life. He doesn’t know where he’s going to be or what he’s going to do from one day to the next. That’s what keeps the books fresh and fun to write for me, but also a little scary and challenging. So, when I actually sit down at my desk to write I have two feelings…anticipation as to what’s going to happen next, and fear because what if I don’t know what’s going to happen next? Or what if it’s not very interesting?
Henry Swann’s son is a fascinating development in his character. How does his entrance affect Henry?
Swann has always suffered enormous guilt as a result of sending his son away to live with his maternal grandparents after his mother, Swann’s wife, was killed in a freak accident. The only way he can deal with this “abandonment,” because that’s what it was no matter how often he tells himself it was for his son’s own good, is through denial. This results in him thinking about him as little as he possibly can. But when his son turns up missing he can’t do this anymore, and yet it proves him with an opportunity to use his skill, what he does best, finding things, to reconnect with his son and maybe, just maybe, assuage some of that guilt he’s carried with him all these years. He hopes it might lead him to redemption, something we’re all looking for, by the way, in that he can finally make up for all those lost years when he was out of touch.
For long-time Henry Swann fans, what do they have most to look forward to in the upcoming release?
More Goldblatt, for one thing. Their partnership is now solidified and although Swann is not pleased about working with someone else, especially Goldblatt, he has come to accept it and it’s probably made him better at what he does, and lit something of a fire under him. For the first time in a long time he’s not only responsible for himself for for someone else. He doesn’t like this but still he knows it probably makes him a better person. Readers can also expect to be brought into two worlds that interest me: the fine art scene and Hollywood. They’re very different art forms, but in a way they’re very similar in that they’re based on smoke and mirrors, deception, fantasy and sleight of hand. In both cases, if successful, the viewer is totally conned, but not necessarily duped.
Is it true that you initially intended “Swann’s Way Out” to be the last book in the series?
Well, I thought it would be because I thought I’d taken the character as far as I could, that I had nothing new to say about him or the world that existed around him. And so I started and completed another novel called Second Story Man, with two new protagonists (actually, they weren’t totally new, as they were “borrowed” from an earlier novel, Devil in the Hole), and even started what I think might be another detective series with a very different kind of detective. But just when I thought I was out, he pulled me back in again. In other words, I got a first line for a new Swann and then two ideas for two new cases he could work on, one of them would reveal more about Goldblatt’s background, and the other would have him get involved in a murder trial. And one of the reasons I said I would stop is that I didn’t think I could come up with another title, but I think I have, at least for now, and that’s Swann’s Down, so there you go. There will be a fifth Swann, probably out in the spring of 2018 (and I only say this so that now I actually do have to finish it).
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ABOUT THE BOOK
Detective Henry Swann returns to search for the truth behind a Hollywood hack, fraudulent art and the sudden absence of his son
NEW YORK CITY – Fans of Henry Swann, rejoice! He’s back in the usual cerbral, hard-boiled way that everyone knows and loves in Charles Salzberg’s latest addition to the detective’s adventures, “Swann’s Way Out” (Feb. 20, 2017, Down & Out Books).
In the newest novel in Salzberg’s suspenseful crime fiction series, Swann is on the search for $1 million seemingly embezzled by a shady Hollywood producer, the salesman of a possibly illegal painting, and in an intriguing turn of events, his long-estranged teenage son. With such an unusual personal distraction, a guilt-ridden Swann is forced to step away from his paying cases to chase after his son, who seems to have joined some sort of cult.
With Salzberg’s always-brilliant writing and beautiful plotting, three mysteries intertwine into a brilliant, hold-your-breath story as Swann sleuths his way to the finish in this dazzling follow-up to “Swann’s Lake of Despair” (2014), which was re-released in November 2016 along with the other books in the Henry Swann series, “Swann’s Last Song” and “Swann Dives In.”
READ AN EXCERPT
Raising the Stakes
“What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” I asked no one in particular.
I don’t know why it occurred to me at that very moment to ask directions. It wasn’t as if I expected anyone in the room to answer my question, much less provide me with any kind of useful road map to my future. And looking around, would I actually want any of these assholes to give me life instruction? The obvious, to paraphrase Conan Doyle, need not be stated.
“Is that a rhetorical question?” Goldblatt asked as he glared at the cards in his hand, as if staring at them hard enough would miraculously change the crap he was no doubt holding into a winning hand.
“I thought this was a card game, not group therapy,” growled Klavan as he pushed several multi-colored chips to the center of the table, where the growing pile now represented close to fifty bucks, a large pot for the relative chump change stakes we were playing at. “I’m raising ten bucks. Any of you losers got the cojones to see me?”
“Too rich for my blood,” squeaked Stan Katz, whose voice sounded much like chalk scraping across a blackboard. I’d met him for the first time an hour or so earlier when Goldblatt introduced him to the game as such: “This is Stan. He does my taxes, so he’s good with numbers.” Evidently, that was all the recommendation he needed to join what had been for the last few months a semi-regular, bi-weekly poker game. The idea was Goldblatt’s. He felt it would be a good bonding experience. I like poker, though I am certainly no fan of bonding experiences, so I acquiesced in large part because it passed the time and kept me from feeling too sorry for myself as a result of evenings left with nothing to do. I’d pretty much given up hanging out at dive bars. Goldblatt even begrudgingly agreed to include Klavan, not one of his favorite people in the world.
“I know he’s a friend of yours though I have no idea why, so you can ask him if he wants to play,” Goldblatt had said. “But tell him I’m not putting up with any of his bullshit.”
So I invited Klavan and he jumped at the opportunity to redistribute Goldblatt’s—and everyone else’s—wealth.
“I’m in,” said a much too enthusiastic Doug Garr, a friend from my college days at Columbia. We’d reconnected a year or so earlier when I bumped into him on Broadway just as he was about to disappear into the subway. He was actually a working journalist, which meant he was able to eke out a living by writing for magazines, newspapers and writing or ghostwriting nonfiction books. He was on his way to the gym to play squash. I was now sorry I’d asked.
“What about you, O’Mara?” Klavan asked, peeking over the cards held at eye level. “You in or out?”
T.J. O’Mara, another old acquaintance of mine, was a former cop turned local prosecutor who was now looking to change careers again. I first met him when he was a beat cop and he caught me repoing a car. When I explained what I was doing, he looked the other way and we’ve been friends ever since. The last time we’d had lunch he told me he was considering “the writing game,” as he called it. “I’ve got stories up the wazoo just waiting to be told,” he had said.
“I’m sure you do,” I agreed.
“And how difficult can it be to write them up?” he had asked.
“Not difficult at all,” I’d assured him, trying hard to suppress a smile. “I’m sure any moron can do it.”
“Yeah, and from what I’ve been reading a lot of them are,” he’d said. “I figure I’ll take a few classes, just to get the form and all that shit, then sit down, write up a few stories, get myself an agent. And there you have it.”
If it were that easy we’d all be best-selling authors, but who was I to burst his bubble?
“So, T.J., you in or out?” Klavan persisted.
“I think I’ll sit this one out,” said T.J., tossing his cards face down on the table.
“What was it you said you did for a living?” Kenny Glassman asked me. Glassman was a friend of Klavan’s. He owned a small bookstore in lower Manhattan. The bookstore was this close to going under, but family money was keeping it afloat, Klavan had explained to me earlier. “He’s a good guy in a bad business, but he’ll come out okay. His folks just bought the building, so he’s existing rent-free, which is the only way to make it in the book game, unless you’re buying and selling rare books, like me.”
“He’s a private detective,” Goldblatt piped up. “We’re partners,” he added quickly, puffing up his ample chest, as if no one had slipped him the memo that private detecting was not exactly at the top of anyone’s list of preferred occupations, mine included.
“You in or out?” growled Klavan, peering at the rest of the players over his black-framed eyeglasses, which were balanced precariously near the end of his nose. I thought he was bluffing, but I couldn’t be sure. He was used to bidding on rare books, so he knew how to project a poker face. Still, his being so anxious was probably meant to make us believe he had a winning hand, and was doing the opposite for me. When people try too hard, and when they try not hard enough, they’re lying. The truth, I’ve found, if there is one, lies somewhere in the middle.
“I’m thinking,” said Goldblatt, shuffling his cards back and forth, hoping, I guessed, they’d miraculously morph into the straight I figured he was aiming for.
“I’m not a private detective,” I protested, pushing the appropriate number of chips toward the center of the table. I wasn’t about to let Klavan or anyone else steal that pot without a fight.
“Then what are you?” asked Kenny, whose thick, nasal, heavily-accented voice left little mystery as to which borough he hailed from.
“Not one of those guys who peeps through windows and rummages through garbage, are you?” kidded Garr.
I ignored him, though those were things that were not beneath me, so long as I was being paid for doing them.
“Therein, Kenny, lies the problem,” I said.
“Fucking identity crisis,” said Klavan. “Can we just leave it at that and finish the damn hand before we help Swann figure his way out of the morass that is his sad, pathetic life.”
This insulting commentary was from someone closest to being my best friend, although I would never say that to Goldblatt, whom I was sure believed he held that unenviable position.
“Okay, I’m in,” announced Goldblatt, pushing an indeterminate number of blue chips into the growing pile of reds and whites. “Hey, where’s the dip?”
“There is no dip,” replied an exasperated Klavan, in whose apartment we were playing, his living room, to be precise, which also doubled as his library. It gave the game a comfortable feel, amongst all those books.
“Where there are chips there should be dip,” said Goldblatt. “It’s one of the immutable laws of life.”
Kenny, not knowing any better, had generously brought along a few bags of chips along with the two six-packs of beer he’d offered to provide.
“You want fuckin’ dip go out and get it,” snapped Klavan.
“Easy, Ross,” I said. “Goldblatt, forget the damn dip. We’re here to play cards, not feed our faces.”
“Okay, but I have to tell ya, every game I’ve ever been in there’s been some kind of edibles, usually provided by the host,” he added, never missing an opportunity to needle Klavan.
Klavan shot him a look that was at least as lethal as an AK-47.
“We can call out for pizza,” Kenny offered, obviously trying to bring peace and tranquility to the land. Good luck with that.
“I could go for some pizza,” said Doug. “I know a great place in the neighborhood.” He checked his watch. “And I don’t think it’s too late for them to deliver.”
“Could we please just finish this goddamn hand,” pleaded Klavan, whose face was turning a bright shade of red. Now, I was sure he was bluffing.
“You boys are pretty serious about your poker, aren’t you?” said T.J. who, with a big smirk on his face, was balancing back and forth in his chair. He was out, so what did he care?
Me, I was enjoying myself, too. Maybe because I was having a pretty good night for a change. The buy-in was fifty bucks, the stakes relatively low—two bucks maximum, until the last round, when you could go as high as ten. That’s where we were now. Being ahead for the night, I figured with a high flush in hand it was worth it to see Klavan’s cards.
“I’ll raise it another five,” I said, not wanting to scare him out of the game.
Goldblatt looked me in the eye with an accusing squint. “You’ve got some hand there, don’t you, Swannie?”
“You can pay another five bucks to see it,” I snapped, ignoring the fact that I hated being called Swannie and he knew it. But in poker, anything goes, trash talk, psychological warfare, any kind of distraction, so I let it slide.
He shook his head. “I’ll let you and Klavan duke it out.”
“Kenny?” Klavan said, nodding in his direction.
Kenny shook his head and folded his cards.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, Ross.”
He eyed me, then the pot, then back to me.
“It’s only five bucks,” I taunted.
“I’m hungry,” he said, folding his hand, then laying it on the table. “Garr, call that place you know. But no friggin’ anchovies. They’re an insult to the world of fish.”
The pizza arrived and, as the big winner for the night, I uncharacteristically sprung for it, though Klavan, still grumbling about playing with “amateurs” added a generous tip. We ate in the kitchen, at a large wood top table, because Ross didn’t want any flying cheese or sauce to land on any of his precious books. And with Goldblatt on board, that was a very plausible outcome.
We finished the pizza in record time, washed it down with imported beer, then returned to the table for another hour or so of poker
By the time the evening ended, just short of midnight, I was up about a hundred bucks, well beyond the price of the pizza. This made the third game in a row I’d come up a winner and I was sure Goldblatt, who’d lost every week, was about ready to call for a federal investigation.
As Klavan dutifully emptied the rooms of the detritus of beer bottles, pizza boxes and paper plates, and Goldblatt studied the pizza stains on his shirt as if he was trying to decipher some arcane code, Stan Katz pulled me aside.
“I understand you’re in the business of finding people,” he said, his squeaky voice whispered so low I had a little trouble hearing him.
“That’s what Goldblatt told me.”
“Then it must be true.”
“I’d like to speak to you about something.”
“Not here, though.” He handed me his card. “Can you call me tomorrow? And if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything to Goldblatt about this.”
I took the card, slipped it into the pocket of my T-shirt. “My lips are sealed.”
“Thank you. And for the record, you’re a pretty good poker player.”
“No offense, Stan, but I’m only as good as my competition is bad. And believe me,” I said, “it doesn’t get much worse.”
He smiled and backed away, his index finger pressed to his lips.
I mimicked his gesture, and backed into the living room, where Goldblatt and Garr were putting on their jackets. It was mid-spring and though the days had warmed up a bit, the nights were still chilly. I had worn a sweater, figuring the brisk walk home would keep me warm enough. Not to mention the wad of ones and fives swelling the size of my wallet.
Praise for the Henry Swann Detective Series
“Swann’s Lake of Despair”
“Smart, satisfying, even profound, this is exactly what every mystery reader is looking for: A terrific story, full of wit and originality, and a master class in voice. Charles Salzberg is a true talent, and his Henry Swann is a classic–complex, hilarious, and completely charming.“—Hank Phillippi Ryan
“Like a good detective, Swann looks past the obvious and follows the plot twists to their unexpected conclusions. As he clips through his paces, Swann takes the reader on an enjoyable ride sprinkled with plenty of sass and vinegar and illuminated by the bright lights and dark underside of the Big Apple. He’s a hero who grows more endearing with each book and whose capers ultimately beg the question: What’s next for Henry Swann?”—Books in Brief
“Swann’s Lake of Despair feels like three short story concepts that have been merged, shoe-horned as it were, into a single storyline. It’s a little slow going at first, as each subplot requires its own setup and there is nothing to connect them. (Indeed, they turn out to be three completely separate storylines.) Too, Henry Swann is a difficult character to embrace. He’s gruff and aloof, and yet tends to grow on the reader as someone who’s also basically fair and incredibly insightful. But what is most intriguing about the book is how Swann negotiates an end game to each of his cases. For each, there is a simple way out but it clearly isn’t the right way out; what Swann wants to do — indeed, what the reader wants Swann to do — is come up with an exit strategy that may not be easy but one that is mutually acceptable to all parties involved, allowing each to walk away agreeable with the outcome if not necessarily completely satisfied with it. There’s a nuanced complexity here that makes this all very appealing in the end. A solid mystery and one that is recommended.”—Mysterious Reviews
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: Feb. 20, 2017
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