Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Q&A with Otho Eskin




Otho Eskin is the author of the new novel Firetrap, the third in his series featuring his character Marko Zorn. A lawyer and former U.S. foreign service officer, Eskin lives in Washington, D.C.


Q: This is your third novel featuring your character Marko Zorn--do you think he's changed over the course of the series?


A: Marko Zorn has not changed. In each succeeding novel, more is revealed about his background and character.


Zorn is a complicated man. He’s a brilliant homicide detective but insubordinate to his superiors, which frequently gets him into trouble. He’s a badass, but fiercely loyal to friends. He has a strong sense of justice and will go to any lengths to defend and protect the vulnerable.


For deeply personal reasons, he prefers not to carry a gun. When necessary, he is resourceful in using other weapons at hand to defend himself.


He has expensive tastes. To pay for his lifestyle and as part of his police investigations, Zorn sometimes gets involved in minor criminal activities.


Over the course of the series, readers learn more about why he does not like to carry a gun and why he so doggedly pursues justice. Without disclosing too much, I’ll say that he is haunted by certain events from his past.   


Q: What inspired the plot of Firetrap?


A: The immediate inspiration for Firetrap was the epidemic of Oxycontin in the US. I’d read extensively on the drug’s abuse and on the Sackler family, and I was outraged by the damage that family had done.


That has been the pattern with all my books. In each case, there was something going on in the world that really ticked me off. 


In The Reflecting Pool, it was the threat from white supremacist militias. In Head Shot, it was Vladimir Putin’s threats and bullying of former parts of the Soviet Union. In Firetrap, it was Big Pharma’s criminal behavior.


I seem to have great capacity for outrage. I don’t think I will ever run out of topics. I just need to read the front page of The New York Times for inspiration.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I always know how and where the novel begins--usually with a scene of violence. And I know exactly how it ends. I have a clear picture of where it must end and who is involved. It’s the stuff in between that is difficult. The middle parts involve extensive work and rewriting.


Q: The novel is set in Washington, D.C.--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: The city of Washington is a crucial character in my Marko Zorn novels. The title of my first novel in the series, The Reflecting Pool, was intended to indicate how the narrative reflected a Washington other than the one that is usually imagined.


Washington is a divided city. There are rich and poor, powerful and weak. There’s a semblance of law and order, but the city is plagued by criminal activity.


Zorn thinks of Washington as “a Whited Sepulcher,” pristine and beautiful on the outside, corrupt and decayed on the inside. He is actually at home in these both these worlds.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a fourth novel in the series, tentatively titled Black Sun. It’s about a neo-Nazi plot to take over the US government. Zorn gets caught up in a radical group almost accidentally. He’s forced to virtually sell his soul to survive. He goes undercover to join the movement.


Many scenes take place under the city in the tunnels and water/sewer passages. Little surprise that this underworld has always fascinated me. I’m excited for readers to encounter this one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think it’s important to know that, while my books don’t shy away from serious topics, they have a lot of humor and wit. The Zorn books are also uplifting insofar as they allow readers to imagine justice winning the day.


I like to think of Zorn as a nod to the real-life men and women who are working daily to combat evil and bring evil-doers to account for their crimes. These people’s stories sometimes get buried by the news of doom and gloom. But they exist, and they deserve to be recognized for working so steadfastly toward a better world. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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