The author of Tokyo Suckerpunch: A Billy Chaka Adventure returns with Complication, a literary thriller about a man traveling to Prague to put his brother’s mysterious death to rest.
You seem familiar enough with Prague to compose snippets of a cheeky guidebook, Prague Unbound.
I first went there on my honeymoon soon after the flood in 2002. Like my protagonist, I didn’t know much about the city or Czech history and culture. But I fell in love with Prague and it offers nearly unlimited fictional possibilities, thanks largely to its tumultuous and not terribly happy history. Four years later, once I got serious about the book, I went back to research. As for the Prague Unbound book-within-the-book, I liked the idea of having a guidebook that was not exactly trustworthy, one written by an author who clearly has issues. If we do an enhanced e-book version, I’m hoping to expand on Prague Unbound.
Is the study of watch making, or horology, a hobby of yours? Does the Rudolf Complication actually exist?
I didn’t know anything about horology before writing the book (and still don’t, really). The Rudolf Complication is my invention, but it seemed like something the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II would have prized. He was a melancholy, Hamlet-like figure, neglecting matters of state to spend hours in his cabinet of curiosities, where he had a huge collection of artwork, animal specimens, and all manner of strange mechanical devices—including clocks. A friend I shared an early draft with said she tried to look up the Rudolf Complication on Wikipedia after she finished reading, which was music to my ears.
Writing a novel with so many interlocking pieces must take much planning.
From the outset I had the idea of mirroring the watch’s mechanics in the novel’s structure—having the story somehow move backwards and forwards at the same time. The closer Lee gets to solving the mystery of his brother’s death, the further into the watch’s past we go. A fun idea, but one that greatly increased my Advil consumption. Making it work was less a case of meticulous planning than endless tinkering.
There are classic crime fiction plot devices here—the elusive serial killer, brothers mistaken for one another, an artifact from the past providing motive for murder—and yet the end result isn’t that of a typical crime novel.
Yes, lots of noir/crime tropes for sure. I like the classics but read contemporary stuff, too. I’m not a big fan of straightforward genre exercises, but am drawn to writers like Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Dan Chaon, and Phillip Davison, who use classic crime tropes and structures to create stories uniquely their own. And I have to give my editor, Dan Smetanka, a lot of credit for the ending. My original ending was perfectly serviceable, but the moment he proposed the one we ended up going with, I knew it added a whole new layer. During our chats, we talked less about books than movies, stuff like Vertigo, Psycho, Memento, which, of course, were all books or short stories first