Susan Fleet is fearless – a woman trumpet player in the very male world of jazz – and we first got to know each other over some of these ongoing battles. I’m thrilled that she’s now given some of her courage to her fictional detective Frank Renzi, who’s a cop in Susan’s adopted home of New Orleans, who returns for this eighth outing in the new Payback. So happy to talk music, mystery, and the Crescent City here today.

How does a book start for you?

All my ideas for a book begin with “what if?” In the course of eight books my series protagonist, Homicde Detective Frank Renzi, has aquired a lot of fans. For my latest book, Payback, I thought, what if someone has a vendetta against him? What if someone sets out to destroy Frank and his beloved father, a federal judge, and his daughter, a young doctor? So I invented an Irish gangster, Brian Devlin, and his two sisters, who play important roles in the family drama.

Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?

Bridget Devlin, Brian’s older sister. She starts out by helping him, but over the course of the book she begins to have second thoughts and ultimately betrays him. I love creating the bad guys and grrrls! They have to be strong and powerful, but not quite powerful enough to defeat Frank Renzi. The more I wrote about Bridget, the more fascinated I became. Why does a Yale-educated college professor help her gangster brother? Consequently, Bridget evolved into a very complex character.

When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting? 

Payback takes place in 2012. My protagonist, NOPD homicide detective Frank Renzi, works out of the District 8 office in the French Quarter, so all my novels (except Jackpot, a prequel to the series) feature scenes in and around the French Quarter.

However, several scenes in Payback take place on Deer Island, on the coast of Massachusetts. I’ve been there several times and on a stormy day it’s quite ominious. The story behind the setting. Back in the 19th century, 2400 Irish immigrants landed on Deer Island and 800 of them died there, including one of the Devlin family ancestors, the origin of my “invented” Devlin family curse.  


What are you working on now?

I like to include contemporary issues in my books. Sniper, book 8, features an international assassination plot, with references to Turkish president Erdogan, currently in the news. My next book will involve the sports betting craze and a massacre in a VIP betting lounge. Stay tuned!

Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?

My previous career as a professional trumpeter has influenced my writing in many ways. Musicians must have the self-discipline to practice every day, whether they feel like it or not. So writers block doesn’t exist for me. Just do it! Also, musicians are perfectionists, so I’m not happy until what I’ve written is the absolute best it can be. Structurally, I think of each novel as a symphony in four movements. Nothing boring about Beethoven’s 7th Symphony! Or my books. The first page has to grab my readers by the throat. Conflict and tension on every page and a plot with plenty of surprises is what keeps my Frank Renzi fans coming back for more.

In her travels, Susan Fleet has worn many hats: trumpeter, college professor and music historian. While teaching at Brown University and Berklee College of Music, she discovered her dark side and began killing people. Fictionally, of course! In 2001 she moved to New Orleans, the setting for her award-winning crime thrillers featuring NOPD Homicide Detective Frank Renzi.

The Premier Book Awards named her first novel, Absolution, Best Mystery-Suspense-Thriller of 2009. Feathered Quill Book Awards named Natalie’s Revenge Best Mystery-Thriller of 2014.

Although Susan still plays her trumpet every day, she spends most of her time dreaming up new ideas to terrify and enthrall her readers. She now divides her time between Boston and New Orleans.  Read more about Susan on her website:

Her other passion is promoting talented women musicians, jazz and classical. Read about them here