BY JOHN LESCROART
I wrote my first book in college.
It was what would now be called a legal thriller, based on the idea that capital punishment was cruel and unusual because the condemned person knew that the execution was coming. I developed the conceit that the death penalty would be more humane if the condemned didn’t know about the sentence, if one day he merely went to the prison doctor for a routine injection or vaccination, and instead the “medication” was a fatal one. No doubt it’s for the best that this book remains unpublished, but in it, I named the condemned man Dismas Hardy. He appeared for about one page, was dispatched, and disappeared.
But the name struck me as particularly memorable, in the mold of, say, Travis McGee or Sherlock Holmes. (It was probably the single best thing in the book.) In any event, I resolved that if I ever did get to writing a mystery series, my hero would be called Dismas Hardy. I knew that Dismas was the name of the good thief on Calvary, who was crucified next to Jesus, and it was always good to have a biblical antecedent to help provide kind of an instant sense of gravitas in a hero. As for the surname Hardy, I had grown up with the Hardy Boys-Frank and Joe-and it seemed to me that there really couldn’t be a better all-American, highly-pedigreed last name for a detective. So that was settled; my hero would be called Dismas Hardy.
Of course, I wasn’t planning on becoming a mystery writer in those days. After all, I was studying the continental novel in translation at UC Berkeley-Stendahl, Camus, Tolstoy, etc. I was serious. But I was a confident cuss, and a part of me thought that I could probably write a Nobel-quality literary work every few years and pay the bills by whipping out a steady stream of entertaining mystery fiction (under a pseudonym, of course) at the rate of about a book a year. And in that case, it was good to have a ready-made name for my protagonist.
But meanwhile, I had to get working on the craft of novel writing. I had already finished the aforementioned legal thriller, which I knew to be literarily dubious in qualitative terms. It lacked certain elements that seemed to be a feature of other books I wanted to emulate, both “literary” and not, such as humor, irony, verisimilitude, and-most strikingly-plot. Seeking to correct these deficiencies, I sat down and wrote a book-length Sherlock Holmes-Nero Wolfe pastiche that I entitled Recipe for Murder. It was, granted, a mystery, and so would be outside the main thrust of my serious work-in fact, I wrote it under the pen name Dan Sherb. I never really thought that this novel would be published either. In fact, after I’d finished it, I showed it to one or two readers, who were universally enthusiastic (parents tend to be!). Then I put the manuscript in my sock drawer and forgot about it.
For the next seven years, I worked as a musician. My creative life mostly revolved around the songs I was writing. After my first two attempts at novel writing-one faintly literary and one a derivative mystery-I had realized that I needed to garner a little life experience before embarking on the serious phase of my art.
I had to see the world.
And I did, traveling all over the United States and overseas in Europe and Africa. Returning to the United States in 1976, I gave the whole singer-songwriter thing a good effort, forming a band-Johnny Capo (me!) and His Real Good Band-that performed regularly for about two years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, we weren’t too bad, and we worked consistently.
Gradually, though, the old familiar but long-suppressed urge to write fiction began to nudge out music’s prominence in my creative life. I started to write short scenes, to experiment with form, to sketch characters, to play with voice and point of view. No plot yet, but still.
Over the course of seven years, I’d written hundreds of songs, and I had become proficient at the craft. Ironically, though, the songs often left me creatively unfulfilled and frustrated. The expression that called to me more and more was fiction. I didn’t even know what I would write about, but I sensed that I was getting close to the point where I might have something important, something serious, to say. I’d almost died in Africa, I’d been cheated out of half a summer’s pay in Spain, I’d had friends die (and even commit suicide). Beyond that, I was married and thought I was getting some understanding of the complexities of adult relationships, of commitment and responsibility.
Hell, I was almost thirty!
Time was running out.
It was time to get serious about my art and my life. If I couldn’t start writing my literary books now, maybe I never would.
On my thirtieth birthday, I bit the bullet and told my band I was quitting to write books. Over about the next two months, I threw everything I had into my first “real” book. Based loosely on some of my experiences in Spain (for that old Hemingway feel), Sunburn fell rather neatly into the classic “first novel” matrix-sensitive young man sees the real world for the first time and comes of age while tragedy and political turmoil rage around him.
In Sunburn, I took the opportunity to write in all three persons. I experimented. I was daring, pushing the fictional envelope. It was heady and wonderful and literary and above all serious-this was clearly what I was meant to be doing with my life and my art. To top it all off, Sunburn went on to win the San Francisco Foundation’s Joseph Henry Jackson Award for best novel by a California author, beating out Interview with a Vampire, among 280 other entries.
Next stop, Sweden. I began working on my Nobel acceptance speech. They’d never chosen a thirty-year-old before, but…
So I’d written the first of my literary works, the start of my oeuvre. While I waited for the publishing world to discover Sunburn, I wanted to keep the creative flame burning, so I quit my daytime job (always a bad idea) at Guitar Player magazine and immediately began another novel, Liner Notes, about some of my experiences in the music and performing world.
Flush with confidence, enamored of my own first-person writer’s voice, I produced this six-hundred-plus-page tome in four or five months and started sending it out to the same literary agents who, much to my surprise, had been turning down Sunburn with a frustrating regularity. My prizewinning literary book, they said, was not “commercial.”
And neither, by the way, was Liner Notes.
Well, what did they know? Great writers have always had to suffer for their art. This would be yet another life experience that would only enrich my later work. My critics would be sorry. I piss in the milk of these commercial cretins.
When Sunburn eventually found a paperback publisher, I realized that the $2,000 advance would not go very far toward giving me the time to write another comparable masterpiece. In the meanwhile, I had to make a living, and I decided that it was time to move to Plan B-to whip out a quick mystery under a pseudonym.
I began working on a novel about San Francisco ’s famous Zodiac Killer. Entitled Imperfect Knowledge, this book imagined that the Zodiac, who to this day has not been caught, simply retired from his first spate of killings and emerged from retirement a decade later, only to be pursued and apprehended finally by… private investigator Dismas Hardy.
“But wait!” you say. “Hardy is not a private investigator. He’s an ex-cop, yes. An ex-Marine, a father and husband and attorney.”
Yes, he is, all of those. But he wasn’t then. It wasn’t yet time for him to be born.
When I had finished the first draft of my Plan B non-literary mystery, featuring Dismas Hardy, I sent it out first to the publisher that had taken Sunburn, certain that my award-winning writing skills would carry the day and that Imperfect Knowledge, though nothing like Sunburn, would be snapped up as a matter of course. I would then take the money and live on that while I wrote my next literary offering, my next “real” book.
This was not to be.
My publisher passed on Imperfect Knowledge. After about ten more rejections, I went back and reworked the manuscript from beginning to end, cutting about two hundred pages, working mostly on plot and pacing issues that agents and editors had suggested.
Among the things I did not consider changing was Dismas Hardy, who happened to be the linchpin of the book. He was a private eye, very much out of the gumshoe mold, the kind of guy I didn’t want readers to have to think much about. He did what other PIs had done, in pretty much the way they had done it. My vision of mysteries in those days was that there was a kind of generic private-eye template, and if one followed it religiously, the hero would “work,” the book would get published, everybody would be happy. In this benighted view, originality wasn’t really part of the equation, and so I created a Dismas Hardy who, though he wasn’t an out-and-out clich'e, failed to sustain interest.
I must have thought it was somehow “mysterious” that he was such a loner and had no history and, really, no life. No love interest. No pets, no kids, no friends. I was saving all that good human stuff for my serious work. And so I sent out another round of submissions with a completely revised manuscript (essentially a new book) and probably shouldn’t have been so surprised with the by now predictable results.
Although, of course, I was.
Devastated was more like it. I had tried to make a career in music and failed, and now I had written at least four complete manuscripts, only one of which had been published, and published as a paperback original at that. The heady confidence that characterized my attitude toward writing up until then was beginning to erode. Could it be that I wasn’t, after all, a genius?
But there seemed to be no other interpretation.
Sunburn had certainly failed to attract a readership. The other manuscripts-even the two drafts of my Plan B mystery-weren’t exciting anyone in the publishing business either. I started to consider the possibility that I wasn’t meant to be any kind of a writer after all. Even more portentously, I didn’t have any more ideas of what I wanted to write about, literary or otherwise.
Three years passed. I remarried well. I took a lucrative day job writing technical papers and put my literary aspirations aside. I was going to be an adult and wear a suit to work every day and not think about my earlier foolish ambitions.
But I knew it was a lie, and my wife knew it too. “You want to write,” she said. “You want to be a writer. You are a writer.”
“But I don’t even have anything to submit,” I told her. “Everything’s been rejected many times over.”
“Not everything,” she said. “You’ve never even submitted your first book.” This was Recipe for Murder, the Sherlock Holmes-Nero Wolfe pastiche I’d written fourteen years before.
“Of course I haven’t sent that out,” I said. “That’s a mystery. I don’t do mystery. I’m a literary writer. And I didn’t even write Recipe for Murder as a book. That was just an exercise to see if I could sustain a plot and characters over a book-length work.”
“I thought it was good,” Lisa said. “I thought it was a book.”
She was right. I scanned the old brittle typed pages into a computer, reprinted them with a new copyright date, and sent them off to New York. Six weeks later, Donald I. Fine bought the book and published it in hardcover under the title Son of Holmes. Better yet, he asked for a sequel, which he’d release as Rasputin’s Revenge the next year.
At last, somebody was paying me to write novels. True, they were mystery stories prominently featuring characters-Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe-that had been created by someone else. Plus, they were both set during World War I in Europe. As entertainments, they could not have been more non-serious. But after my earlier disappointments with publishing, I was glad to be on the boards at last, glad to be getting the chance to write regularly.
Donald I. Fine asked me for another book, and I told him I wanted to change directions and write a story set in the present day, and in the United States, with a modern protagonist. I didn’t envision it as a mystery, but as a story of one lost man’s redemption after his world is suddenly shattered by… what? What literary conceit could drive a plot, or shatter a world?
The idea-startling in its clarity, profound in its implications-hit me like a thunderbolt.
In fact, a murder.
And a murder turned my serious “literary” idea into a mystery.
Suddenly the inherent and irreconcilable dichotomy I had always perceived-maybe projected is a better word-between serious literature and the mystery genre vanished. I could tell an important story, perhaps even one containing a universal truth or two, and at the same time provide the kind of narrative drive that a strong plot could guarantee, or at least facilitate. I could talk about moral and social and character issues-surely the province of serious literature-and write a fast-moving and entertaining story at the same time. This was an enormous revelation-I didn’t need to pursue a Plan A for my serious work and a Plan B for stuff people might enjoy reading. They could be the same thing!
And Dismas Hardy, waiting in the wings all this time, began to reveal himself to me not just as a (snooty literary word) protagonist, but as a hero.
At this point, fate stepped in. I had begun subscribing to the Mystery Writers of America’s newsletter, The Third Degree. Sometime in the late 1980s, the writer and critic Dick Lochte wrote a cover story for that periodical, urging writers to stop writing about “private eyes.” The world didn’t need any more private eyes, he said. They had been done, and done to death. He pleaded for originality, new voices, a new approach to the mystery novel.
He couldn’t have hit me (and Dismas Hardy) at a better time.
Suddenly, Dismas Hardy the San Francisco private eye had to become what he in his wisdom always knew he was meant to become-a full-fledged human being. He wasn’t a private eye. He’d never been a private eye. No wonder those agents and editors hadn’t bought him back in the day. He hadn’t been original or authentic. He’d been a hackneyed literary conceit in those earlier manuscripts, little more than a cartoon. Now, if I wanted to write about him, first I had to find out who he was, why he was important, and how he was worthy to carry the moral weight with which I was about to burden him.
Dismas Hardy was not going to be my Plan B character. Dismas Hardy was going to be no less than my Everyman. He would carry the hopes and dreams of every man, suffer the losses, savor the triumphs. He would have a family, friends, and enemies. He would get sick, make mistakes, drink too much, work too hard, fail to understand. But mostly he would hunger and thirst for what we all ultimately desire-justice.
All writers have heard the admonition to “write what you know.” My confidence had taken a big enough hit during the rejection years that I no longer felt like any kind of a genius. If I wanted to create a memorable character, and I did, I’d take whatever advice was out there. And I decided that if he was to be authentic, Hardy had to be full of stuff I knew, and knew intimately. That was the main thing. I had to know him.
So he was my age, thirty-eight.
He’d gone to a Catholic all-male high school, quite possibly my own Serra High in San Mateo, California.
He lived on Thirty-fourth Avenue at Clement in San Francisco.
He was a bartender at the Little Shamrock, as I had been.
He was divorced.
Though not an alcoholic, he tended to kill his pain with drink.
The arc of this book was to be Hardy’s resurrection and redemption-two good Catholic themes about which I knew plenty. I also knew that Hardy’s life and career had been shattered, but I didn’t know why.
(Except that it wasn’t because he’d failed as a writer. I wanted to identify with his failure, though I knew it wasn’t going to be the same as mine. He was to be the appealing Everyman, not the effete artist type his creator had once and no longer fancied himself.)
Did I know enough about Dismas Hardy to begin? I thought so. The great thing about the actual experience of writing is its revelatory character. Though I had no idea how I was going to get a thirty-eight-year-old bartender involved in a crime that would somehow redeem him and restore the equilibrium and happiness to his life, I had written enough to believe that the process would provide the answers.
And within the first three pages of Dead Irish, these words appeared on the screen in front of me:
“It was the first time Hardy’d had a woman’s arms around him in four and a half years. And that time had been just the once, with Frannie n'ee McGuire now Cochran, after a New Year’s Eve party.”
“In a way, he thought, it was too bad the plane hadn’t crashed. There would have been some symmetry in that-both of his parents had died in a plane crash when he’d been nineteen, a sophomore at Caltech.”
He just felt he’d lost track of who he was. He knew what he did-he was a damn good bartender, a thrower of darts, a medium worker of wood.
He was also divorced, an ex-marine, ex-cop, ex-attorney. He’d even, for a time, been a father. Thirty-eight and some months and he didn’t know who he was.
He tipped up the glass. Yeah, he thought, that wouldn’t have been so bad, the plane crashing. Not good, not something to shoot for, but really not the worst tragedy in the world.
He figured he’d already had that one.
That was how long it took-three pages-for Hardy to assert that, for all our similarities, he wasn’t me. I, for example, had not been orphaned. I’d never even visited Caltech. I hadn’t been a cop or been in the service. I wasn’t an attorney. I sucked at darts. I’d never carved a piece of wood in my life.
Where did all this come from?
And, more important, what was the tragedy Hardy was talking about, the worst tragedy in the world, the one he figured he’d already had?
I didn’t know.
I wouldn’t know until I’d finished the entire first draft of the book and started the second. This is all the more amazing considering that the tragedy-the death of his young son, Michael, in a crib accident-is what caused the breakup of his marriage, the collapse of his legal career, his decade-long hibernation as a bartender in the bar owned by his friend Moses McGuire, whose life Hardy had saved in Vietnam.
See? Even when I hadn’t known him, he’d always been a hero.
Other things began to happen. Hardy goes to a Giants baseball game, where a fan plunges to his death from the upper deck, and there at the ballpark he runs into a Jewish mulatto cop named Abe Glitsky, with whom he used to walk a beat in his policeman days. I am blessed with two great brothers and several very close male friends, without whom life wouldn’t be nearly as fun or interesting. And suddenly, writing what I knew, I watched as Hardy and Glitsky fell into the patter of a long-standing and deep bond. These were old friends, connected in some nearly spiritual way. I didn’t know Abe yet, but I knew the relationship.
And Abe’s job gave me a way to connect Hardy to a crime.
Except, apparently, it’s not a crime. It’s a suicide. The suicide of Eddie Cochran, an idealistic young man who is married to Frannie, the sister of Hardy’s boss, Moses McGuire. Frannie has just found out she is pregnant.
Hardy doesn’t believe Eddie would have ever killed himself. And there is insurance money for Frannie if someone murdered him. Though it’s formally none of his business, Hardy-as Everyman thirsting for justice-must find the answer.
And in searching for that answer, he discovers to his surprise that the active grieving period for his son has somehow come to an end, and that there can be meaning and even joy in reconnecting with life and getting to know the people around him. Hardy is redeemed, reborn, and ready to take up the role in life that he’d planned and prepared for before his personal tragedy derailed him-a man who lives and if necessary fights to see justice done.
Dead Irish reveals Dismas Hardy as the lead character in a novel that happens to have a crime in the center of it. At that time, and unlike many of the young people who come to the profession of writing today, I did not have a game plan for how I would pursue my career. I was not aware enough of the publishing business to even have an agent yet, much less the savvy to decide to write a series for which I would supply the next six plots and maybe a second one featuring cats. For me, when I wrote it, Dead Irish was a stand-alone novel, not the first book in a series. Though it meant abandoning the well-loved name Dismas Hardy, I felt sure that I would find another name for a character in my next book that would please me. I’d say good-bye to Diz, thank him for the yeoman efforts, and move on.
Then Dead Irish got nominated for the Shamus Award for best novel (which I found highly ironic, Shamus being a synonym for private eye), and Donald Fine asked me to write a true sequel featuring Dismas Hardy.
I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I’d already written Hardy’s character arc. He was redeemed, he was back together with his first wife, he was happy bartending at the Shamrock, which he now owned a quarter of.
What would be the conflict? How would he grow as a character? I didn’t know, and I didn’t think that revisiting him in a new setting was a particularly great idea.
But here I was, four published books into my career, and if I wanted to keep getting paid to write, this was a bird in the hand-a bona fide offer from a New York hardcover publisher. It was still not even close to enough money to live on, mind you-just a small step up from Dead Irish. But it would give me another chance to see if I could write a commercially successful novel. And I could look at both the Dismas Hardy character and the plot as challenges in pure storytelling.
In the course of writing The Vig, I continued to learn a little more about Hardy, and to be surprised by these discoveries. The most surprising element was his love life. Although in Dead Irish, he’d reconnected with his first wife, Jane Fowler, The Vig wasn’t twenty pages old when Hardy found himself drawn to the much younger Frannie Cochran, widow of Eddie from Dead Irish, the sister of Moses McGuire. The whole time I was writing this book, I didn’t know what would finally transpire in Hardy’s choice of his mate. Jane was certainly a worthy person, smart and sensitive. But there was lots of baggage there with Jane. And a certain idealism and freshness in Frannie.
Beyond that, simply in plot terms, I was wrestling with the question of romance. It never hurts the readability of a novel-even a serious literary novel-if one of the plot or subplot elements is romance. Will the boy get the girl or vice versa? My experiences writing both Rasputin’s Revenge and Dead Irish had taught me that this was a powerful, perhaps even essential, device to elicit empathy for main characters and also to create suspense and a level of humanity without which a book might seem dry and lifeless.
Finally, I was still trying to write what I knew, and I was married to a woman who was eleven years younger than I. The issues and decisions that Hardy and Frannie would face and make together might in many ways be similar to those Lisa and I were confronting. Drawing upon our personal experiences might inform the character of Hardy in a way that would simply be impossible if he chose Jane.
And so in this fundamental way, Hardy’s character development took another step-albeit a very small one-in The Vig. But as I wrote that book, I couldn’t escape the feeling that it lacked the depth of its predecessor. I thought it was a good read, with a strong plot and interesting characters, yes, but to me it lacked the inherent gravitas that had characterized Dead Irish.
Perhaps this was because I’d approached its writing as an academic exercise, much the same way I’d written Son of Holmes right after college. It other words, though I took the craft of it seriously, I treated it almost as a Plan B work that in an earlier incarnation I probably would have written and published under a pseudonym, and with a different more or less generic mystery protagonist, certainly not my Everyman, Dismas Hardy, as its main character. (Despite that, since the book’s publication, I’ve watched with a somewhat bemused eye as The Vig continues to attract new readers and remains healthily in print nearly twenty years after its first publication.)
Ironically, this was probably the time that I came closest to giving up on Dismas Hardy, and on what was now at least a fledgling career as an acknowledged mystery author. I was forty-one years old and had published five books-four of them mysteries. I couldn’t pretend, and certainly no one in the publishing industry thought, that I was a “literary” author. Why was I kidding myself?
I was making very little money writing, which I did out in my garage in Altadena between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m., five days a week. My other two day jobs included full-time work as the word-processing supervisor at a large Los Angeles law firm, and then piecemeal typing every night at other law firms among the towers that made up the LA skyline. My days began at 5:30 and often ended at 11:30. By now, Lisa and I had two children, and I rarely got to see them except on weekends. And even with all the hours I was working, and the books I was publishing, we were struggling financially. Maybe it was time I got a professional career-track job. Go to law school. Quit writing and recognize it for what it was-a foolish, youthful dream that hadn’t quite worked out.
Of course, in the LA area, there was also the ever-present distraction and lure of the screenwriting-movie business. And as a published author, I was able to “take a few meetings.” I got paid to write a screenplay for a B-movie producer. I wrote a few synopses for TV pilots. More piecemeal work. Hackwork.
My lofty ideals had atrophied; the serious writer I’d once wanted to become was nowhere to be found. I needed to make money so my family could survive, and I probably could have been talked into writing a snuff film if it paid enough. And when I realized that this was what it had gotten to, I decided to stop writing altogether. If it wasn’t a noble and beautiful calling, some kind of artistic expression, what was the point? Was it all just the ability to juggle words?
I didn’t want that. I started sending out r'esum'es for career-oriented jobs. Donald Fine asked for another sequel, and I told him no. I wasn’t going to do another formulaic mystery. I’d learned my lesson. My writing life was over.
This was where things stood until one Sunday in August of 1989, when I woke up with a severe earache, bad enough that I couldn’t rouse myself to go to a Dodgers game for which we had tickets. By that evening, I had a good fever and an even better headache. At 3:00 a.m., Lisa packed our two infant kids in the backseat and drove me to the emergency room of our local hospital, where the doctor told her that I had spinal meningitis. His prognosis was that I would probably not survive the next two hours.
For the next eleven days, I was mostly unconscious in St. Luke Hospital ’s intensive-care unit. After they released me, I spent another thirty days at home recuperating, intravenously treating myself with 90 million units of penicillin a day. (For the next year, I smelled like a mushroom.) Finally, when I returned to my day job at the word-processing department of my law firm, I found that the office manager-believing that I would probably die-had hired three full-time, permanent employees to take my place. This left me in an awkward position that realistically could not continue for long. This job-my one constant source of income over the past six years-was going to end soon. None of the r'esum'es I’d sent out had borne fruit.
Lisa and I had to make some decisions.
We felt we’d given LA a good try. I’d worked six years with my law firm, and in that time had published three novels. But living there was expensive and in many ways dispiriting. Our daughter was about a year away from kindergarten, and the public schools in our area of LA were dismal. Last but certainly not least, nobody was breaking down my door with any kind of a job offer. We decided we would move to northern California, where life was much less expensive, and that before I got another full-time day job, I would give full-time writing one last good try. This was really in my heart what I wanted to do; further, it was what I was getting to be good at. I thought that if I could just focus on the right kind of Plan A book-something like Dead Irish but with a bigger canvas and wider-ranging themes, I might have a chance of finding an audience.
By now, with the meningitis and recovery, I’d given Dismas Hardy nearly two years off. I knew from Dead Irish that he could carry the weight of a big story, and I would no longer sell him short, as I felt I had with The Vig. I would plumb the depths of his Everyman persona in this new book.
To do it, of course, I was aware that I had to find those last personal elements that I knew so intimately from my own life. I was a father of two, and now Hardy would be a father of two. I would know his home life, and it would be central to who he was. Since having my own children, I had come to understand something that no one can know until they have the experience-that children and family are the center of life for most people. Though these domestic relationships didn’t provide quite the zing of romantic entanglements, and although the role of husband and father certainly wasn’t the expected reality for a hard-boiled hero in a mystery, nevertheless it was central in everyday life. In the life of Everyman. As so it would be in that of Dismas Hardy.
Beyond that, I had worked in a business legal environment for six years and knew the basic routines of lawyers’ lives, the stresses of the job, the conflicts, the hours, the betrayals, the moral ambiguities. I didn’t know much, if anything, about criminal law, but then again, I realized that after ten years away from the law field tending bar, Hardy wouldn’t be so hot on the details himself. And, in fact, his interest was never so much in fighting crime and prosecuting criminals as it was in seeking justice.
As I started Hard Evidence, featuring no longer a bartender, but a married working attorney named Dismas Hardy walking a shark, trying to keep it alive in the Steinhart Aquarium, I knew that he had finally revealed the last secrets of his nature to me. He was not and could not be a larger-than-life superhero. He was a regular guy, a working-stiff, nonglamorous defense attorney with a closely knit (yet often conflicted) family and a coterie of loyal friends. You’d like him-he might beat you at darts, but he’d buy you a drink afterward. He was the kind of person you’d care about if he showed up in any kind of novel at all, not just a mystery.
And in fact, while I was writing Hard Evidence, I discovered to my joy and satisfaction that the distinction in my mind between so-called genre work and “real” novels had somehow all but disappeared. I was writing a Plan A novel now, a serious, grown-up novel about the human condition, and that’s what I’d be writing in the future.
And whenever Dismas Hardy came up and told me he was ready to shoulder the load again, he’d be my man.
There is a last chapter, a postscript, to the story of Dismas Hardy.
Hard Evidence was published to a minimum of fanfare with a relatively small print run. Nevertheless, because I believed that Dismas Hardy had become a fully self-actualized character, and because I had what I thought was a terrific plot idea for another book, I started working almost immediately on The 13th Juror.
The vagaries of publishing being what they are, there is usually a significant lag between sending a book to a publisher and its actual publication. Likewise, there is often a further hiatus between publication and the sale of any subsidiary rights, such as paperback or foreign deals. I sent Hard Evidence to my publisher in about March of 1993, and it was published in 1994, by which time I was nearly finished with The 13th Juror. In the summer of 1994, I offered The 13th Juror to Donald I. Fine, but the advance he offered was unacceptable-actually less than he’d offered for Hard Evidence-so I decided to take The 13th Juror to the open market.
It was a depressing experience.
Although twelve publishers had indicated that they would be willing to take part in an auction for the book, on the actual day, none of them made a bid. Eventually, I received more than twenty rejection notices. They were from just about every New York publisher except two, William Morrow and Donald I. Fine. In the end, Fine outbid Morrow, but my decision to accept Fine’s offer was a long, drawn-out, and exhausting one.
And reluctantly, with those twenty or so rejections of the best I could do with Dismas Hardy hanging heavily in my heart, I decided that much as I liked him, I would have to let him fade into the background. He was clearly not a commercial character. There was no sign that he’d resonated in any important way with readers or with publishers.
It was time to give another character a shot.
Abe Glitsky-Hardy’s long-standing friend from his days as a cop and already a major character in the earlier Hardy novels-couldn’t have been more different from Hardy, but he was a pretty fascinating guy in his own right. I decided to explore his life and character first in A Certain Justice and then, because I enjoyed being with his cursed and curmudgeonly self so much, in Guilt.
But a funny thing happened two years after I’d initially submitted The 13th Juror, when I was halfway through the process of writing Guilt. The 13th Juror finally came out in paperback and jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed and stayed and stayed. By this time, I had changed publishers to Delacorte, and that house’s paperback imprint, Dell/Island, had published The 13th Juror, which was suddenly a very hot property.
And that made Dismas Hardy commercially viable at last.
Could Hardy, my publishers wondered, ever be coaxed into coming back again? Could he take another big novel with a big theme onto his big shoulders and carry it all-or mostly-by himself?
I allowed as how he could.
And that’s what he’s been doing ever since.