LUCY BURDETTE: You won't be surprised to hear--with names like Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams in its history--that Key West is chockablock with writers. I'm delighted today to introduce you to one of them. Rick Skwiot has a new mystery coming out on October 27 that demonstrates an astonishing example of life imitating art. I'll show you...
Fail deals in part with an incident similar to one that has recently been in the headlines—the shooting of an unarmed black youth by a St. Louis area police officer. Was this coincidence, and, if so, where do the similarities end?
RICK SKWIOT: Yes, the tragic August 2014 shooting in suburban Ferguson, Missouri, occurred just as Fail was going into print. Luckily, this was an isolated incident. But the culture of violence, gunplay and institutional failure that often contribute to street tragedies are front and center in Fail. In it a black cop, Carlo Gabriel, unwittingly unearths a morass of political corruption and educational malpractice that each year put hundreds of vulnerable dropouts on the mean streets of St. Louis—America’s erstwhile murder capital. What Lt. Gabriel does about it … well, that’s a key part of the mystery, in addition to an intricate and surprising missing person search and an unlikely murder.
LUCY BURDETTE: Your main, point-of-view character Carlo Gabriel is a black cop—or “Halfrican” as he describes himself, half African-American and half Mexican. Was it a stretch for you to write from a black point-of-view?
RICK SKWIOT: No more so than writing from a female point of view, a Mexican point of view, a police chief’s point or view, or a father’s point of view as I have done in previous books despite having no experience as any of those. Besides, the back half of Gabriel’s hyphenated ethnicity is “American”—where I claim substantial cred, including sharing with Gabriel the same general values, morals and, importantly, language. In addition, over the years I’ve had some important black colleagues—roommates, mentors, bosses, and buddies—who’ve played formative roles in my life and who are now part of me. For the dramatic purposes of this novel, I thought it important to have Gabriel come from the people and community who are being most victimized by the corruption and decay chronicled in Fail.
LUCY BURDETTE: This is such an amazing coincidence--it makes me wonder... How fictionalized and exaggerated is the St. Louis area political and educational corruption you show in the book?
RICK SKWIOT: Fictionalized hardly at all and grossly understated. ‘Ghost’ workers at city hall who draw a salary without working, city employees looting hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter schools, a police chief apparently involved in a towing company kickback scheme, a campaign money-laundering ploy to which the governor pleads guilty, schools rigging test scores to cover up their malpractice—I made none of that up and can document it all and much more. Read the newspaper. It’s an ongoing story in St. Louis and a number of other cities.
LUCY: Now out to you, Jungle Red Readers... Fiction has a history of weaving social issues into the plot and characters. Which crime fiction writers do that well? Other questions for Rick? He'll be visiting with us today and also offering a signed copy of FAIL to one lucky commenter!