Lorenzo Carcaterra is the author of the new novel Tin Badges. His other books include A Safe Place and Sleepers. A former writer/producer for Law & Order, he lives in New York City.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Tin Badges, and for your character Tank Rizzo?
A: I had read quite a few books where the lead detective in a series can't seem to piece together his post-police department life. The character usually had two ex-wives and are bad at maintaining relationships; has children he never sees; and has drinking and, in some cases, drug issues. The life, in short, is a mess.
I wanted a lead character who, despite being shot off the job and missing the day-to-day activity of being a cop, had none of that baggage. Tank gets a three-quarter tax-free disability pension due to his wound; he inherited a four-story brownstone in the village and rents out the top two floors. He works out; loves sports; reads; travels; goes to the theatre; watches movies and TV, reads, collects wine.
More importantly, he has a close-knit community of friends--from his ex-partner to the woman he dates who happens to co-own his favorite restaurant; to the crew he uses to help him solve any cases that might come his way. Included in the mix is an old mob boss who co-owns the restaurant with his daughter, the woman Tank loves.
I also wanted a character who lived by the street rules I am very familiar with--you trust only those you know and who know you. To my mind it gave me a character that I would enjoy writing about and a solid lead for a potential series.
The idea for the book evolved over a number of years. I wanted to do a hybrid--a crime thriller or mystery where a case needed to be solved mixed with a family drama where secrets are kept and relationships can sometimes be frayed.
Tank has no relationship with his brother, Jack. They might as well live on two different planets. There is a shared secret between the two that they wish no one to know.
Into this mix comes Chris, Tank's nephew. He chooses to live with him after what appears to be the accidental death of his parents. Chris is a crime buff--watches all the shows; reads all the books--and is convinced the death of his parents was not by accident.
His world is tossed upside down--from private school to public; from suburb to city--but he is determined to ingratiate himself with Tank and his crew and also to work to prove his parent's death was no accident. Tank knows what his nephew is up to and does nothing to stop it. But he is also aware if he does take on such a case it risks revealing the one secret he had kept buried for decades.
Q: Can you say more about the relationship between Tank and Chris?
A: It's an uneasy relationship at first and needs time to grow. Tank is equipped for many things--being a parent to a teenager is not high on that list. Chris is hurting and angry and doing his best to fit in. Tank is resistant to change. Chris has been forced by circumstances to accept change.
They butt heads a few times but also draw closer as they get to know one another. They are the only family each has left and eventually come to respect and love one another.
Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel?
A: Not very much, no. If I had questions I could reach out to cop friends and ask for help--they would give me an accurate way of doing some police work and if it fit with what I wanted to do, I went that way. If it didn't, and I still wanted to go in my initial direction, I fiddled with it a bit and went that way.
I did want to make use of the city and placed scenes in a lot of places, old and new, that reflected that. That doesn't require much--other than walking around and making use of what's out there on those streets.
Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I did not know how this one would end--so the cliffhanger ending is as much of a surprise to me as it is to the reader. I have a general idea of where I'm going to go, but sometimes a character who was meant to be a toss-away takes on a bigger role and you start moving in a different direction. Occasionally, you risk painting yourself in a corner, but that rarely happens and when it does, the fun part is figuring a way out while still staying true to the main goal of the novel I set out to write.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I finished the second book in the series, Payback, and am now writing a non-fiction book about my Italian grandma, my mother, and my late wife, and how each, in their own individual way, helped shape me both as a man and as a writer. It should be finished by the end of the year.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Tin Badges was optioned by Warner Bros. TV and the producers behind a number of successful shows (many based on novels)--Rizzoli & Isles, Longmire, The Closer, and Major Crimes. They have a show premiering this month on CBS--All Rise. I'm a producer on the project and will write at least one, if not two, of the episode, when the time comes.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb