In Berney’s thriller November Road (Morrow, Oct.), Charlotte Roy, a woman determined to start over, links up in late 1963 with Frank Guidry, a mob fixer who’s involved in the JFK assassination.
Where did you get the idea for the novel?
My brother-in-law. He grew up in a small town in Kansas. All the kids in his town were instructed by their parents to stay away from the next town over. My brother-in-law found out later it was because the town was where the mob sometimes sent guys to cool off after a job, a hit. I really liked the possibilities of a big-city mob guy stuck in the middle of nowhere, meeting a local woman, establishing a relationship with her. So when I started the novel, I planned to have Frank sent to hide out in the small town where Charlotte lives—that was going to be the primary setting.
Why did you decide to have Frank and Charlotte flee together?
As I was writing, I realized that there wasn’t enough tension early on, and that Frank on the run was much better than Frank doing what he was told. So all of us, me and the characters, hit the road.
How would you describe the theme of November Road?
It’s about leaving home—about at least trying to leave behind the person you’ve always been. I’ve always been intrigued by that question: can you truly reinvent yourself, and if so, what’s the price you might have to pay? Charlotte wants a new life for herself and for her daughters. To make that new life, she’s going to need a new self. That’s not easy—her old self is fighting for survival, trying to get her to give up and go back home. Frank, on the other hand, is fighting not to change. He likes his old self, his old life. But the longer he’s around Charlotte and her daughters, the more the role he’s playing starts to suit him. He starts seeing the world, and himself, through a different lens. He starts to glimpse the man he might have been, and the man, maybe, he might still become.
How did you research the assassination and conspiracy theories?
I knew all along that I wanted the assassination to be a backdrop, not a focus, but still I read a ton of books about it. One thing that surprised me: as farfetched as some of the assassination theories might seem, the facts themselves are almost as incredible. For example, President Kennedy’s brain, removed during the autopsy, disappeared soon after. That’s a fact! It’s no wonder that doubt about the Warren Commission report emerged soon after it was issued.