In Beinhardt’s The Deal Goes Down (Melville House, Aug.), PI Tony Casella is approached by a woman who wants him to kill her husband.
How did you come to create Cassella?
One day, I read two mysteries, and they were absolutely dreadful. And I said to myself, “Oh, wow. If I wrote a book, even if it was this bad, I could get paid.” And that was my inspiration. People who sit down to write a book and think it’s going to be just as good as Hemingway or Fitzgerald never get past their own first page. So I just found out what people paid for books and then broke that down into what I thought was a reasonable amount of time I could do it in. I was very fond of Hammett, and asked myself, what would Sam Spade be like now—now being the 1970s.
When you started that first book, No One Rides for Free, had you envisioned a series?
No. In fact, I hated the idea of series. Series have limits. The lead characters never change. They never age. And so I didn’t like that artistically. But publishers want series. And I was too stupid to realize that, in the business model, they were right. In the end, I said okay.
This is your first Cassella novel since 1991. What led you to revive the character?
I just thought it’d be a really interesting thing to do. Take the guy, he’s 30 years older, in his 70s—what is he like now? The third book ended optimis- tically, with him returning to the States, after living in exile with his wife and baby. It was a time of hope for him—but, between then and this book, his wife and son have died. He doesn’t have a conscience at this point. So when somebody comes over and says, “Hey, could you kill somebody for me?,” he says, okay.
Is there an underlying theme for this series?
I want the books to be totally entertaining. But if you want to be serious about them, the subtext is a social history of American economics. This book is about a time in which the only value people have is money. There are no other values in this book. So, “let’s kill my husband, because I’d make more money killing him than from divorce.” And that’s the kind of world Casella’s living in. He’s in a world that is even more empty and cynical than he is.