“Clea!” I turned and there was Scott Von Doviak. The scene was a hotel lobby, somewhere in Dallas, a city known for barbecue and assassination. The occasion, Bouchercon, the latest iteration of the annual gathering where the crime fiction community – writers, readers, all – meet and talk and drink and plot. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Scott was there, among the Halloween-costumed revelers, exhausted agents, and mystery fans, all imbibing – or brewing up – their poisons of the day. I knew Scott as a writer for The Strand magazine, where he’d included my World Enough in a piece about the new face of Boston noir. I soon learned that he knew what he was talking about: his own Charlesgate Confidential borrows from the best of the noir/hard-boiled conventions and takes them further. Of course, as is often the case with authors of the toughest books, Scott is a real sweetheart. I’m thrilled to be able to introduce him to you here!
How does a book start for you?
I start with the setting. The setting gives me the characters and the characters give me the story. In the case of Charlesgate Confidential, I had long wanted to write about the former Charlesgate Hotel in Boston, in which I had lived during the ‘80s when Emerson College turned the building into a dormitory. I have current works in progress set in Austin, where I live now, and Los Angeles, where I spent five years. I need to feel a connection to the setting in order to be comfortable and inspired enough to write about it. While I was at the crime writers’ convention Bouchercon recently, I met someone who was writing a series set in a place they had never been, which is something I can’t imagine doing.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
One of the characters surprised me by getting killed much sooner than I expected—and since I want it to be a surprise for readers too, I won’t say any more about that!
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
As mentioned above, Charlesgate Confidential is set in Boston. The story was inspired by a real unsolved crime, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist—the largest unsolved art heist in history. Although it took place in 1990, I moved it back to 1946 for my purposes. The story unfolds in three interwoven time periods, all revolving around the Charlesgate building that was built in 1891 as a hotel. In the 1940s, the hotel has been taken over by the mob, several members of which are drawn into the heist. It goes awry and the art is still missing in the 1980s, when a journalism student living in the Charlesgate dorm digs into the building’s history and meets someone who may have been involved with the heist. In the present day storyline, the Charlesgate has been converted to luxury condos, where a murder takes place, drawing a homicide detective into the search for the missing paintings and the multi-million dollar reward.
What are you working on now?
I’ve recently finished a novel that would be the first in a projected series involving an amateur private eye in Austin, Texas investigating a fire at the bar he formerly tended—an investigation that draws him into a much larger conspiracy. My three-word pitch is “Slacker meets Chinatown.” My current work in progress is a massive, pulpy LA noir that I’ll be wrestling with for the rest of the year if not longer.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
Let’s see… “Did Stephen King read your book and give you a cover blurb calling it terrific?” Why, yes, as a matter of fact, he did! Not only a career highlight, but a life highlight for someone who grew up in Maine devouring his books.
Scott Von Doviak‘s debut novel Charlesgate Confidential was published in September 2018 by Hard Case Crime. It was named one of the top ten crime novels of the year by the Wall Street Journal. Von Doviak is also the author of three books on film and pop culture, including Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema. He reviews television for The Onion’s AV Club, and is a former film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He lives in Austin, Texas.