By Mary Walton, Blogfinger literary editor
Fans of Wallace Stroby, Ocean Grove’s own crime noir author, will remember Crissa Stone from Cold Shot to the Heart, published last year. She is as sympathetic a killer as you are likely to find in the genre, a woman who thinks first, shoots afterward, and only murders bad guys.
The man behind this mayhem will be reading and answering questions about his newest and fifth book, Kings of Midnight, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 12, in Neptune Library and again at 4:30 p.m. April 21 at Booktowne in Manasquan.
Kings opens with Crissa in a ski mask at the helm of a John Deere front end loader, scooping up an ATM stuffed with a weekend’s worth of cash. “She braked, pushed the steering column lever into first gear, stepped on the throttle pedal.”
Crissa knows a thing or two about front end loaders, and so does Stroby, thanks to a cousin “who is an expert in all forms of heavy equipment,” the author told Blogfinger in an interview this week. The cousin vetted the manuscript to make sure that Crissa operated the machine correctly.
The idea for the scene had been gestating since Stroby had lunch a couple of years ago in Florida with a friend who is both writer and cop. The friend’s partner was working a string of ATM thefts that employed a front end loader. Remembers Stroby, “I heard about it and I said ‘Wow!’” The ever helpful Internet provided articles for background and even a surveillance video.
Although the heist is successful, and a deadly shootout between Crissa’s two accomplices enables her to walk away with all the money, she is scammed by an unscrupulous money lender, and soon needs more cash. She is subsidizing a boyfriend locked up in Texas and a daughter being raised by relatives. Emotional complication is one of the advantages of having a female protagonist, Stroby said. “She can’t be totally cold.”
The ATM job is just the opening scene of a suspenseful saga that plunges Crissa into the heart of an intriguing mystery: what ever happened to the $6 million in cash and jewels that was never found after a famous 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK Airport? Crissa and a pickup partner named Benny are not the only bad guys looking for the money. The others will stop at nothing.
The plot, Stroby said, was a natural for Crissa. “I’m always looking for stuff for her to do.” The ATM theft aside, she has a penchant “for stealing illegal money.”
New Jersey, where Stroby grew up and worked as a journalist, usually plays a central role in his books. In Kings Crissa retreats to Avon where the soothing view of the ocean from a beachfront condo affords her solace and anonymity.
When it came time to choose a title, nothing compelling came to mind. But Stroby keeps on hand “a list of titles that don’t have books.” Kings of Midnight jumped out from the list. If a title doesn’t quite match, not to worry. “It’s the title that draws people in,” he says. If people like the book, “I’ve found that nobody gets disappointed.”
An early review in the Los Angeles Review of Books calls Kings of Midnight “remarkable for its stylistic rigor. There’s not a word out of place, no detail that isn’t essential to the story.” Concludes the reviewer, “Over the course of two books in two years, Crissa Stone has become one of the most relatable and likable criminals in contemporary crime fiction. And in those same two books, Stroby has risen to the top of his field. Here’s hoping that Stroby and Crissa make it three-for-three in 2013.”
Stroby is seeking to oblige. The week he turned in the final draft of Kings, he started a new book, also featuring Crissa in her never ending quest for money. Sure, she ended up with a million bucks after Kings, “but a million doesn’t go as far as it used to,” the man who created her says. “She’s always worried about being poor.”
Editor’s note: to read more about Wallace Stroby and his books, click here.