Dennis Tafoya’s second crime novel, The Wolves of Fairmount Park, explores Philadelphia’s drug underworld.
How did your experiences lead you to write your novels?
When I was an EMT in a Philadelphia emergency room, biker gangs used to rent farmhouses and set up speed labs in the countryside not far away. One night, one of the labs burned, and we got calls all night from people asking how to take care of burns. A few days later, a badly burned body showed up in the woods. That stuck in my head, and ever since I’ve wondered how somebody ends up in a burning meth lab in the middle of the night, and if you’ve come to that place, is there any way back? Is it possible to create characters who get involved in that kind of life and who can still claim our sympathy?
What was the genesis of Wolves?
My amazing agent sold a two-book deal based on one sentence about the second book—a heroin addict trying to solve a murder in Philadelphia. I’d been thinking about the idea for a while, but I really didn’t have more than that for a long time. I knew I wanted to expand the book’s scope and include a cop’s point of view, too. Wolves really stretched me. I can’t imagine what I was thinking promis- ing a story about a junkie detective.
Could Wolves have been set in another major U.S. city?
While there are obviously many ele- ments that could be transplanted anywhere, there are traits in my char- acters that reflect what I know about people from the city that may not be true of people from other parts of the world. Many of my characters pretty much never leave the city, which is a very Philly thing. We go down the shore, to Jersey, and for a lot of us that’s as far as we ever get. We used to joke that an aunt of mine thought she needed a passport to leave South Philly. Guys who were being hunted by the mob would just hang around until they were mur- dered, because leaving was somehow just not an option. Your status, your identity, they wouldn’t transfer any- where else. So you stayed, even if it meant you were a target.
How has your work in industrial sales informed your fiction?
Not that much, other than I get to travel a lot and see parts of the country I wouldn’t otherwise know. I have a plot idea that comes out of that expe- rience, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.