Fresh Blood

Name: Jesse Kellerman

Title of Book: Sunstroke

'A very exciting debut.'

Gloria Mendez, aged 36 and living in Los Angeles, is in love with her boss, Carl Perriera. When Carl goes missing during a trip to Mexico, the only clue to his disappearance is a garbled message on her answer phone. Later Carl is found dead in mysterious circumstances and Gloria is determined to find the truth about his death, aided by his long lost son Carlos. But Carlís life soon begins to unravel and Gloria has to accept that the man she knew for years had a secret history which may had played a part in his death.

This is an excellent first novel from Jesse Kellerman. He writes in a style reminiscent of 50's detective novels and the story contains a number of characters who add the shadowy film-noir style plot. The character of Gloria is particularly well developed and the book is almost a study of her obsessive quest for the truth of Carlís demise. I loved the backdrop of Mexico to the narrative and Jesse Kellerman delves into the story of her life, which adds to the sense of drama. The plot does have a few surprises so it will certainly appeal to lovers of crime fiction who enjoy being kept in suspense. A very exciting debut.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What type of crime writing would you say you write?
Oh boy. Itís hard to answer this without sounding like a pretentious twit. People have frequently called Sunstroke a ďliterary crime novelĒ, by which they mean I use semicolons.

Because I spend a lot of page time talking about Gloriaís grief, her history, her inner life, I tend not to think of the book as a crime novel. I often think of it as a love story, or a book about coping with loss.

Moreover, my second book is very, very different, much more of a traditional femme fatale thriller, so I canít really say I write one type of crime novel, or even one type of novel. I write whatever feels most compelling to me at the moment. It so happened that the first novel I had accepted for publication prominently featured a crime. It feels a trifle strange to be asked questions as though I am an expert on the genre; Iím not, I swear. Before selling Sunstroke I had written primarily stage comedy.
2) What type of crime novel do you prefer? Series or standalone?
I gravitate more toward standalones; to me they seem neater, less contrived, and more urgent. Urgent, because when you focus on one single moment in a characterís lifeóand thatís all you get to say about him or heróyou can horn in on the most desperate and dramatic. Series sometimes lose their verve or plausibility because an author is forced to create many such moments of drama in a single characterís life. I find it hard to identify with someone whoís always stumbling into a mystery.
3) Have you always had ideas to write a crime novel?
No. I wrote a crime novel because my previous, rejected novels suffered from a lack of narrative thrust and structure. Writing crime seemed like a good way for me to keep my focus: the stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end. I needed the rigidity.
4) What influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?
See 3.
5) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
My favourite crime novel is probably A Judgement in Stone, by Ruth Rendell. A close second would be The Getaway, by Jim Thompson. The Collector, by John Fowles, could also probably be called a crime novel. Thatíd be a tie for second or maybe even first. There are too many good onesÖ
6) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire?
I would describe myself as a very catholic reader, and several of the many authors I admire write crime. The crime writers I enjoy the most are my parents, Ruth Rendell, Jim Thompson, and Elmore Leonard. I admire many other writers, as well, significantly Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh, and David Mamet (who might qualify as a crime writer by some peopleís standards).
7) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Movies almost never capture the fullness of a novel. So many of them have been disappointments. I did like the movie version of A Simple Plan. The Third Man is excellent, of course. But honestly, the best crime films are not, in my opinion, adaptations; they are their own animals, playing to filmís particular strengths (visual shock, silence, etc.). A list of good crime films would include Fargo, or anything by the Coens, for that matter. I liked Dirty Pretty Things a lot.
8) Without giving away the ending, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
That is the hardest question any interviewer has ever asked me.

I think my favourite plot twist comes at the end of the second act of American Buffalo (I know itís not a book, but what can I do? Iím a playwright by instinct), when Bobby the junkie reveals that heís been lying to his mentor, Donny, to gain his affection, thus putting Donny very close to committing a robbery that will certainly lead to his arrest or death. (Did that manage to avoid giving anything away?) Itís such a subtle stroke, one without fireworks or gunshots, and yet it inverts oneís understanding of the entire situation, destroys plans, shatters loyalties, inspires violenceÖ That play is an education in plotting, and a powerful example of how the most exciting turns often donít involve much more than a single word of betrayal.
9) Are you going to use the character of Gloria Mendez from Sunstroke again in any future novels?
Unlikely. I love Gloria and had fun writing about her, but Iíve got so many competing voices in my head that it would be criminally neglectful to ignore them. Also, as I wrote above, Iím more comfortable with standalone novels than with series.
10) You seem very knowledgeable about Mexico and its culture. Have you ever lived there?
Iíve never lived there, and I in fact avoided going there during the writing of the book. The Mexico I present is a dream-Mexico, a place that doesnít really exist. I consciously avoided too much explicit reference to the real Mexico, which is a vastly more complicated place than my book depicts. For Gloria, in the novel, Mexico is Hell.
11) Where do you see crime fiction going next?
Wow. I have no idea. I think that itíll be interesting to see the ways in which crime novels intersect with other kinds of novels, to see what sort of cross pollination results. Thatís my plan, anyway. I admire writers who ignore or obliterate boundaries, and while I love the genre, love working in it, Iíd like to see what happens if I start breaking a few rules.