How did you come to create your series detective, Artie Cohen?
It started because, like all journalists, I had always been saying I'm going to write a thriller or a novel. About eight to 10 years ago, I decided it was time to put up or shut up. Originally, the main character was going to be female, but when she met this cop I came up with, he turned out to be more interesting than she was. I'd spent a fair amount of time in the late 1980s, early 1990s, in the former Soviet Union, as it was changing. I was over there working on a nonfiction book, Comrade Rockstar, which was about the man who brought rock and roll to the Soviet Union. It was an incredible time to be there, and it was the only time in my life where history really was happening every five minutes—and a lot of Artie really comes out of the variety of Russians I met.
How important was it to you to create such a baffling, albeit fair, whodunit in Disturbed Earth?
Although I'm more interested in a lot of ways in character, background and ambiance, I also think that if you promote your book as a mystery, it's kind of your job to give people a whodunit. A lot of people who read mysteries do read them for plot, for the jigsaw puzzle, for a chance to work things out, and I do think you ought to try to satisfy that. A lot of the thrillers today don't try to do that. I did go quite far down the line with a different solution before deciding the story would be much more interesting if the killer, instead of being mentally unwell, had a pure, sort of Conradian evil about him.
Were you limited by the requirements of a whodunit plot?
No, I think it frees you up, at least it does for me. I got to the point where I realized that I was educated way beyond my talent, and when I discovered that I'm probably not going to be Philip Roth or Hemingway, I became very self-conscious trying to write fiction. Having a genre, having a structure, in a way frees you up, and really helps. I also think that you see this in the very best TV, by having a genre or structure, where you're compelled to do certain things with plot. You can then do the other stuff—the characterizations, the background—without being so self-conscious about it or feeling that you have to be literary.
Why did you choose to focus so much on the impact of 9/11 on New York City?
Obviously 9/11 changed everything for anyone living in the city. I was actually in the air on 9/11, coming back from London. I live near where the towers stood, and I thought that the term "disturbed earth," which I used for this book's title, was just a good way to describe Ground Zero and everything that happened here; I got it from a reference to the search for two victims in a tragic British child murder case. The next two books in the series reflect my belief that 9/11 goes on being a central fact of life for New Yorkers.