Write What You Know by Ed Duncan – Guest Post
Write What You Know: The Origin of a Crime Thriller by Ed Duncan – Guest Post
Ed is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He is the original author of a highly regarded legal treatise entitled “Ohio Insurance Coverage,” for which he provided annual editions from 2008 through 2012.
Ed currently lives outside of Cleveland, OH. The Last Straw, the second installment in the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy, is now available exclusively on Amazon. Ed is at work on the third book, Rico Stays. Meanwhile, he has also written screenplays adapted from each installment in the trilogy.
In this post I’d first like to tell you a little about me and then a little about Pigeon-Blood Red. Knowing something about me is actually relevant to my novel, because Paul Elliott, one of the main characters, is a highly idealized version of me. He’s the first black lawyer and the first black partner at a large law firm, just like me, except the law firm is located in Chicago, not Cleveland, where I practiced.
I’m a native of Gary, Indiana, famous several years ago for a musical line trumpeting the name of the city in the Broadway musical and movie of the same name, The Music Man. More recently Gary is known as the home of the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson, all of whom I saw perform at a talent show at my high school during my senior year. The actors Karl Malden and Avery Brooks are also Gary natives, and Avery and I attended both high school and college together.
I practiced law in Cleveland for 37 years, retiring in 2012. In 2008 I wrote a legal text called Ohio Insurance Coverage, and I did annual updates of the text for the next five years. But what I really wanted to do was write crime fiction, so I retired to do just that.
There’s an expression – I don’t know who said it first – but it applies to me: “Inside every lawyer is a writer trying to get out.” You can probably think of a dozen novelists who started out as lawyers, e.g., John Grisham, James Patterson (who attended law school in Cleveland), David Baldacci, Scott Turow (who I believe still practices part-time), and Steve Berry, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
The writer inside me started to escape sometime in the mid-1990’s when I read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. The writing – especially the dialogue – was (and is) exquisite. Most people have seen the masterful 1941 movie version of the novel. One of the reasons it is so good is that much of the dialogue was taken directly from the novel. Incidentally, the screenplay was nominated for an academy award.
Sometime after I read Hammett’s novel I was in Honolulu attending a legal seminar when the germ of an idea for a novel came to me. In my mind’s eye I saw a woman — mysterious and beautiful — traveling alone in Honolulu and on the run from dangerous people who were trying to get their hands on something valuable she had in her possession. I also saw a lawyer, my alter ego, coming to her rescue, or trying to. That basic idea, after numerous changes and fits and starts, as I worked on it at night and on weekends over the coming months and years, became first Murder in Paradise and later, following a name change, the more evocative Pigeon-Blood Red.
So, what does “pigeon-blood red” refer to? It is a phrase coined by Indian gem dealers centuries ago. It describes the most desirable color a ruby can have and, therefore, the color of the most valuable rubies, almost all of which originate in Burma or Myanmar. That hue is said to replicate the color of the first two drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly killed pigeon. At auction pigeon-blood red rubies have fetched over $1 million per carat, and a single such ruby was sold for over $28 million.
And who is the mysterious woman in danger? Her name is Evelyn Rogers. She is a college math teacher. Her marriage is on the rocks and she’s vacationing in Honolulu with a girlfriend because Robert, her debt-ridden, cheating husband, a businessman trying to climb the ladder of success, cancelled on her.
What is the valuable thing the dangerous people are trying to get their hands on? A pigeon-blood red ruby necklace worth millions that falls into Evelyn’s hands after – unbeknownst to her – it is stolen by her husband.
How and why did Robert steal the necklace? How did it fall into Evelyn’s hands? How did Paul, the lawyer who comes to Evelyn’s rescue, become embroiled in the crime (and how much of an idealized version of me is he?) You’ll have to read the novel to find out the answers to these questions, because revealing them in advance would ruin the experience.
But I will answer one more question. Who is chasing first Robert and later Evelyn and Paul in search of the necklace? Richard Sanders, a.k.a. “Rico”, is the underworld enforcer dispatched from Chicago to Honolulu to retrieve the necklace and “send a message” to its thief. Only in retrospect did I recognize that Rico is, in many ways, an amalgam of the steely-eyed heroes in three of my favorite movies: Shane, Hombre, and Bullitt. (Interestingly, Hombre is based on a novel of the same name written by the estimable Elmore Leonard.) What they all have in common with Rico is that they are essentially loners who have a code of their own. But they differ from Rico in that they operate on the right side of the law and he doesn’t. He has a darker side, but although he is a killer, he does have a code, the parameters of which are known only to him, and that makes him a killer with a conscience.
His conscience is put to the test when he must choose between following an order to kill two innocent people for whom he has developed a grudging respect and sparing their lives, but thereby endangering the life of the woman he loves.
Author – Ed Duncan
Publisher – Zharmae
Pages – 184
Release Date – 25th February 2016
For underworld enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, it seemed like an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss’s priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it. But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.
As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?