It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In the beginning of my fictional world, there was Chris Lyon.
The year was 1990: I had recently “discovered” James Ellroy. I had just finished reading THE BIG NOWHERE, still my favorite Ellroy novel, and was well into reading L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, when I decided I had to write my own crime novel. Ellroy was wholly the trigger for all that.
By that time, I had a sprawling first draft of a literary novel in hand—a book I’d been restlessly writing and rewriting for…well, for years. That novel was about a journalist named Chris Lyon. Chris’ supporting cast included two young women named Jenny Prather and Salome Arnaud, and the latter’s “adoptive father,” a sinister pool player and carnival manager. The characters were generally solid, I thought; the plot was just never really quite there. We learn by doing…
Having decided to write a crime novel, I kept those four key characters, and jettisoned that big, sprawling coming of age literary novel structure. In retrospect, I see Chris Lyon always wanted to front a crime novel, not another Bildungsroman the world really didn’t want or need.
My first crime novel was inspired by Ellroy—no question of that—but I didn’t want my book to read as if it was written in thrall to the Demon Dog.
I knew I was going to use a series of historical crimes to fire the novel I was already calling in my own head, PARTS UNKNOWN. I had settled on a murder cycle my grandmother used to talk about a lot: my native Ohio’s Depression-era series of Cleveland-based torso murders; killings investigated by Safety Director Eliot Ness in his post-Capone and Untouchables-era life.
To avoid any comparisons with Ellroy’s vintage crime novels, I decided to time-shift the Cleveland killings to late-1980s’ Columbus, more or less. To facilitate that transition, I created this Irish cop named Jimmy Hanrahan, who chased the Cleveland phantom and who would serve as Chris Lyon’s bed-ridden sidekick, so to speak, in chasing Columbus’ own “Mad Butcher.”
The process used to write my first crime novel all those years ago was very similar to the one I’d used to write the Hector Lassiter novels nearly a decade later. I had a beginning, an end, and in between, I had a wealth of historical mile markers from the actual Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run case to light my way and to plot toward and around.
It was, mostly, organized improvisation writing that first book. I still tend to write ’em that way.
As a student of fiction and author career arcs, I was very focused on the danger and challenge of drafting an effective second novel, even while writing that first crime novel. So, immediately, before number one was even revised, I began writing a second Chris Lyon novel, CARNIVAL NOIR.
PARTS UNKNOWN was shopped around to a number of agents many years ago, including Ellroy’s guy, Nat Sobel.
Feedback was good and encouraging, so I kept shopping the novel and kept writing other Chris Lyon installments, figuring to have a fully integrated, ready-to-go series in hand when that sale finally came through.
I had this further vision: A series about an author who more or less wrote his own life, using himself as a character; a crime novel series that would, in a Philip José Farmer/Wold Newton way, comprise a kind of secret history of crime and stand as a heady mythology for serial murder.
But that first book didn’t sell. Ellroy himself was little better than a cult figure in those pre-L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE MOVIE days, and the notion of a post-modern author/detective didn’t find any takers that decade.
I actually quit fiction writing for a while after that. It was a hiatus that ended when I got an idea for another author hero named Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”
Writing the eight Lassiter novels in a kind of white heat over a period of a little over a year, I found myself plundering the Lyon novels for characters. Bud Fiske, Jimmy Hanrahan and others got a second lease on life in the Lassiter novels. (Chris Lyon, himself, found his way into the closing pages of Lassiter #3, PRINT THE LEGEND.)
In all, I wrote upwards of eight Chris Lyon novels—or, to be fair, I wrote about eight novels set in Chris’ world.
Thing was, I managed not to write what should have been the necessary and hyper-critical fourth Lyon novel—the book that caps the series-within-a-series that continues the story arc begun in PARTS UNKNOWN, and is furthered through CARNIVAL NOIR and the just released CABAL.
To put it bluntly, I had a quartet of novels lacking its fourth part.
Oh, I long had a title for that book: one selected in tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But that’s about all I had other than vague plot points.
So, in the spring of 2012, I sat down to write the novel I should have written back about 1993 or so to complete the Chris Lyon series. I had decided to package the Lyon novels as eBook originals, and to proceed with that plan, I had to fill in a big-ass continuity gap there, up front…I had to compose the missing fourth novel.
Because the Lyon and Lassiter series had entwined to such an extent by then, I decided to bring the two writers together on the page in a significant way. So, in April of this year, I’ll be releasing exclusively to Kindle, ANGELS OF DARKNESS, featuring Chris Lyon and Hector Lassiter, interacting together and fighting a common foe.
ANGELS caps Chris’ journey into darkness, but it also hearkens back into Hector’s past, touching on the second Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS, while simultaneously filling in some holes in Hector’s biography.
In completing the first leg of Chris Lyon’s journey, ANGELS will also set the table for the four, yet-to-be-published Hector Lassiter novels.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but now that it’s done, it feels right.
Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series. The first of the Lassiter novels, HEAD GAMES, was an Edgar and Anthony finalist, and is forthcoming as a graphic novel from First Second.