I had the privilege of interviewing Allen Eskens back in November of 2014 on his debut novel, THE LIFE WE BURY. The novel won several awards; it was winner of the Rosebud Award for Best First Mystery Novel, named the Best Debut Novel of 2014 by MysteryPeople, and earned a laundry list of other awards; literally, it got over 10 awards. It is a fantastic read.
Eskens released his sophomore novel, THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, in October of 2015. The novel sets out and seeks to answer the question: Who was James Putnam?
The answer to that question may help Detective Alexander Rupert salvage his wrecked career. A former Medal of Valor winner, Rupert is now under subpoena by a grand jury on suspicion of corruption. Rupert gets the Putnam case and sees within it the opportunity to prove himself and repair his tattered reputation.
But the investigation puts him in the path of a sociopath who has been searching for the missing Putnam for years. And before he knows it, Rupert’s life, which was already in shambles, is now also in danger. As he feels his life spinning out of control, his steadfast brother and fellow police detective Max may be Rupert’s last hope.
Allen Eskens was kind enough to let me interview him again on his second book.
First, congratulations on THE LIFE WE BURY! It seemed like I would see a twitter post about an award, a praising review, or a blog every other day on your debut novel after it came out. You knocked that whole debut novelist thing out of the park. What has changed for you since your first novel’s success, and now that your second book is published? Are you at your day job less and at the laptop more?
I have adjusted my law practice a bit, compressing my time at the office in order to set aside extra time to write and edit. With the success of The Life We Bury, I feel more confident in calling myself a writer (as opposed to a lawyer who loves to write). I also feel that I’ve learned a great deal with my first novel. I read reviews, both professional and reader reviews. It impressed me that certain parts of the story that I hoped would have an impact on my readers did have that impact. That gives me additional confidence when I make decisions on things I am writing now.
THE GUISE OF ANOTHER started off with a bang and was a detective-versus-bad-guy thriller until the end. THE LIFE WE BURY read more like a literary mystery, rich with character shaping drama and themes. Do you plan to stick with the crime mystery genre? As a criminal defense attorney, is that a genre you are comfortable to work with?
I love writing mystery/thriller novels. My theory on the subject is that a plot carries the reader forward and character draws the reader in deeper. Therefore, there is a spectrum—a balance if you will—between character and plot. The Life We Bury was written more on the character side of that spectrum and The Guise of Another leans more toward plot. I plan to continue writing novels along that line. I suspect that the novels that have Max Rupert as a protagonist (The Guise of Another) will be a little more plot driven, but with depth of character. And the novels with Joe Talbert or others will be more character driven with clever plots.
Can you tell what inspired THE GUISE OF ANOTHER? Did any of it come from your career as an attorney; bits from a case here, a sprinkle of a case there, then bake at the keyboard for a few months and boom – a novel?
The Guise of Another began as simple as me researching the past of someone as part of a case. The person had a kind of mysterious past, although not nearly as mysterious as James Putnam. As I was doing the research it occurred to me that such an investigation would be a good premise for a novel. I then came up with the idea of a man dying in a car accident who had a secret past, a past from which he needed to stay hidden. The investigation would reveal a McGuffin and expose my protagonist to the evil that James Putnam was hiding from. As a criminal defense attorney, I find that ideas are floating around me all the time. Sometimes all I have to do is open myself up to them.
Will we see Joe Talbert (main character in THE LIFE WE BURY) again?
Yes. Joe will come back. The Guise of Another is the first book of a three-book arc for Max Rupert. When I come back to Joe, he will have graduated college and be working for the Associated Press. There are a number of issues with his family that still need to be explored, not the least of which is the father he never met. (Tease alert).
Back in 2014 I asked you about your process; what you needed when you sat down, where you worked… has that changed? Or are you still working on a laptop in a trusty recliner?
When you find something that works, you stay with it. I did get a new laptop as the old one was showing its age. I still outline with a sketch pad and write on a laptop while sitting in a recliner.
You also mentioned you were working on a trilogy with Detective Max Rupert (brother to Alexander Rupert, main character in THE GUISE OF ANOTHER) when we last spoke, is that still a project we can expect?
I use the word trilogy loosely. The Guise of Another has Alexander as its primary protagonist, but it is the first of three books that chronicles a journey that Max has to take. In The Guise of Another, Max is the stalwart Boy Scout trying to help his brother. In the next book, tentatively titled The Heavens May Fall, (coming out October 4, 2016) Max learns something that rocks the foundation of his world. By the third book, a struggle between good and evil will be raging in Max and he will need to come to terms with who he is and what he is capable of doing.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions, Allen. I’m looking forward to your next story.