Charlie Waldo has a problem, or maybe I do.
See, crime fiction has a bunch of terrific subgenres. We’ve got cozies, we’ve got hardboiled detectives, we’ve got thrillers, we’ve got police procedurals, we’ve got crime comedies, we’ve got literary.
But Charlie Waldo doesn’t quite fit anywhere. When somebody asks me what kind of crime fiction I write, I don’t quite know how to answer. PI, yeah, but not hardboiled like Matt Coyle or Michael Wiley. The books are funny, but way darker than Carl Hiaasen or Wendall Thomas (if you haven’t read her, you should). I work awfully hard on my sentences, but the reading pleasures are a different flavor from the literary guys like James Lee Burke or William Kent Krueger.
So whenever a reviewer or a blurb likens me to another author, I find myself both grateful and uncomfortable: inevitably every comparison feels like a simultaneous overpromise and underpromise.
Plus I weave in a lot of topical issues, most prominently about the state of the planet (Waldo, if you haven’t read him yet, takes his environmentalism to pathological extremes), but the books also fire freely at Hollywood, the toxic world in which I’ve plied my trade for thirty-plus years.
This problem doesn’t exist only in my head. Waldo’s three books in now, and as it happens each has been with a different editor, across two publishing houses, and with every book we’ve wrestled together with the challenge of how to position it, sometimes around blurbs but more often around covers. Dutton went with a classic thriller cover on the first hardback. Then a new editor came in and changed it to something more brightly colored and playful for the paperback, as well as the hardback of the second. I liked all of them, to be honest, but I’m especially pleased with cover Severn House put on the new book, Pay or Play, which washes a noir-ish L.A. cityscape in a lurid purple that suggests some dark fun, and adds three cheeky bullet holes through the O’s in my name and the title. (For what it’s worth, I never much cared for my own name until I saw it with those bullet holes.)
If your taste runs toward genre-busting, you might really like my books. This is from my very favorite review, the Providence Journal’s of Charlie Waldo’s debut, Last Looks: “Just plain fun, sidesplitting… The relentlessly entertaining Last Looks actually resembles the work of Michael Connolly more than Hiaasen or [Tim] Dorsey, its lightness wrought by the colorful Hollywood grotesques in a manner that would make Nathanael West (‘The Day of the Locust’) proud.”
Needless to say, reading that made me feel like a million, because the reviewer, Jon Land, got exactly what I was trying to do—though, I must admit, without consciously realizing I was doing it.
Because, see, when I came up with Charlie Waldo, I wasn’t a novelist. In fact, I hadn’t written a word of prose fiction in thirty-five years.
Most crime novelists start out by being superfans of the genre, more likely of one or another of those subgenres I mentioned, inspired to write novels that would fit on shelves alongside those of their heroes.
But when I had the idea for Charlie Waldo, I was just a Hollywood writer casting about for something to pitch and sell. I’d recently written my first detective pilot; it didn’t survive a change of regime at the network, but I loved writing it, so I was trying to come up with a new private eye with a strong hook. My screen work has primarily been in comedy of one stripe or another, so the genre-bending I was originally looking at had plenty of commercial precedent, from Moonlighting to Monk.
I had no success pitching Waldo to the networks, so I put him away for a year or two, but brought him back when a movie producer invited me to write a detective story with some comedy. Only then did I think about moving Waldo from Massachusetts, as originally conceived, to L.A., mostly because I needed a movie-sized crime—and the biggest crimes, of course, are Hollywood crimes. The decision had the extra benefit of adding fodder for comedy, especially a chance to have some fun with the kind of privileged L.A. private schools my kids attended, the kind where I found myself one back-to-school night sitting between fellow parents Tony Danza and LL Cool J.
Since I was now trying to write my first detective movie, I patterned the structure after the oldies I loved, from The Big Sleep to Chinatown, setting laughs aside entirely. Then, because I’d been hired to write a comedy, I tried to find a humorous take on each scene, some amusing twist on the expected. All that made Last Looks the most difficult script I’d ever written… but my longtime producer believed it was also my best.
What happened next was the usual movie business story: for several years, it kept almost getting made, then falling apart. But I loved this one so much that I bought back the rights and decided to try my hand at reverse-adapting it into a novel.
And that’s how I ended up with the amalgam the Providence Journal describes. That classic investigative structure? Once I shifted from screenplay to novel, it resembled Michael Connelly. The laughs I brought to it as a comedy writer? Now reminiscent of Hiaasen. My personal Hollywood animus? It turned me into a modern cousin of the legendary Nathanael West. With a series not quite like anyone else’s.
These days, when somebody asks what my subgenre is, I say, Satirical Crime Fiction. That particular bookshelf may not be crowded, but if you haven’t met Charlie Waldo yet, I hope you’ll come give it a look.
A Charlie Waldo Novel: Book 3
Publication Date: November 1, 2021
Blackmail, sexual harassment, murder . . .
and a missing dog: eccentric, eco-obsessed LA private eye Charlie Waldo is on the case in this quirky, fast-paced mystery.
Paying a harsh self-imposed penance for a terrible misstep on a case, former LAPD superstar detective Charlie Waldo lives a life of punishing minimalism deep within the woods, making a near religion of his commitment to owning no more than One Hundred Things.
At least, he’s trying to. His PI girlfriend Lorena keeps drawing him back to civilization – even though every time he compromises on his principles, something goes wrong.
And unfortunately for Waldo, all roads lead straight back to LA. When old adversary Don Q strongarms him into investigating the seemingly mundane death of a vagrant, Lorena agrees he can work under her PI license on one condition: he help with a high-maintenance celebrity client, wildly popular courtroom TV star Judge Ida Mudge, whose new mega-deal makes her a perfect target for blackmail.
Reopening the coldest of cases, a decades-old fraternity death, Waldo begins to wonder if the judge is, in fact, a murderer – and if he’ll stay alive long enough to find out.
Pay or Play is the third in the Charlie Waldo series, following Last Looks and Below the Line. Last Looks was turned into a major motion picture, starring Charlie Hunnam as the offbeat private investigator.
This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Howard Michael Gould. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
Howard Michael Gould graduated from Amherst College and spent five years working on Madison Avenue, winning three Clios and numerous other awards.
In television, he was executive producer and head writer of CYBILL when it won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series, and held the same positions on THE JEFF FOXWORTHY SHOW and INSTANT MOM. Other TV credits include FM and HOME IMPROVEMENT.
He wrote and directed the feature film THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY, starring Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman. Other feature credits include MR. 3000 and SHREK THE THIRD.
His play DIVA premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and La Jolla Playhouse and was subsequently published by Samuel French and performed around the country.
He is the author of three mystery novels featuring the minimalist detective Charlie Waldo: LAST LOOKS (2018) and BELOW THE LINE (2019), both nominated for Shamus Awards by the Private Eye Writers of America, and PAY OR PLAY (2021). The feature film version of LAST LOOKS, starring Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson and directed by Tim Kirkby, will premiere February, 2022; Gould also wrote the screenplay.
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Great guests post! I love this cover, and it has nothing to do with the fact this purple is my favorite color, LOL. And, yes, the bullet holes are a nice touch!
I love the idea of Charlie Waldo’s character. I get tired of the same old characters in every book. I like the idea that Waldo offers something different and fresh. Just look at the list of books I read and you’ll see that I love quirky characters. This one is definitely on my to read list.
And of course I’ll have to read the book before watching the movie.