Author Stephen Blackmoore was on a mission with his novel City of the Lost: To tell a gritty, hard-boiled thriller of a story in a way that wasn’t like a 70s detective TV show. And you ask, well, okay, but what does a 70s crime detective show have to do with anything to begin with? As it turns out, and as this Big Idea will show, quite a lot.
Back in the early 70’s, when television was king, there was a show called Mannix, about an L.A. private eye who would get beaten, clubbed, beaten, shot, beaten, shot some more and occasionally beaten.
This never killed him, of course. Be an awful short series if it did. Nor did it give him a concussion, shock, broken bones, internal hemorrhaging, ruptured organs, nerve damage. You get the idea.
In fact, you’d pretty much see him at the end of every episode with one arm around a girl and the other in a sling.
Even when he got shot with an elephant gun.
Have you ever seen an elephant gun? I haven’t. The closest I’ve come is a .375 Weatherby that’s designed to take down things like water buffalo. I heard a story about a cop who got hit in the chest with something similar while wearing a bulletproof vest. The vest held, surprisingly enough, but the round punched it halfway through his body. At the autopsy they found that the shock waves from the impact had blown out all the blood vessels in his brain.
But not Mannix. No sirree, at the end of the episode he’s standing there with that shit-eating grin on his face and a blonde in his arms.
I like crime fiction, noir in particular. The kinds of stories where even if somebody wins, everybody loses. I’m not a big fan of happy endings or being kind to characters. I shoot them, stab them, break their noses. But there’s a limit to the kind of punishment I can put somebody through without seriously stretching plausibility. Nobody buys Mannix, if they ever did. They know you can’t shoot somebody through the head and have him shrug it off.
But I really wanted to write a story where I could do that.
In City of the Lost Joe Sunday is a professional leg-breaker. He’s the guy you don’t want to see when you owe somebody money. He knows those places in the desert where nobody’s going to find you but the coyotes and that the best way to get somebody to talk is with a pair of bolt-cutters and a Zippo. If you see him coming don’t bother running because you’re just going to die tired.
Then he gets murdered and brought back from the dead. Not on purpose. He’s just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody in their right mind would want to raise him from the dead. He’s already a monster. That’s like sticking your rabid pit bull into the Pet Sematary.
It’s funny how once you embrace the impossible a whole slew of gonzo shit becomes plausible. Add zombies and magic and you can get away with a lot. Like thugs you keep coming even after you pump them full of bullets.
The great thing about writing Sunday wasn’t just that I could shoot him, break his bones, run him over, throw him off a building and damn near chew his head off, but that he’s the type of guy who might actually find himself in those kinds of situations. He’s a lowlife. People are trying to kill him all the time. When that doesn’t stick, they just try harder.
As big ideas go it’s really not that big. I wanted to write a book that was pulpy, violent, and over the top where I could make my protagonist’s life really goddamn miserable. Over and over and over again.
That or get out some pent up aggression. I’m still on the fence with that one.
Either way I had fun writing it. Hopefully people will have fun reading it.