Q&A WITH JESSE MILES, AUTHOR OF THE POPULAR JACK SALVO SERIES
Question: Tell us what The Middle Sister is all about.
Jesse Miles: The Middle Sister is the latest of my three Jack Salvo novels. When a wealthy woman hires Jack to find her wayward daughter Lillie, who has been missing for a week, Salvo figures the girl is probably hiding out with her friends. All he has to do is interview her crew, bust their stories, and deduce the missing girl’s location – or so he thinks. Salvo soon learns that her "friends" are somewhat parasitic. When he finds Lillie, she is hosting different kinds of parasites - the little ones that help rid the world of rotting corpses. Salvo is quickly pulled into a maze of murder, arson, and blackmail. During his high-speed run down L.A.'s fast lane, he spars with grifters and gangsters, dodges the cops, and digs up a dark, deadly family secret.
Q: How did the Jack Salvo character come about?
Miles: My full-time job and youthful restlessness made writing difficult, but I hacked away over the years, and the Jack Salvo character began to take shape. I read Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Elmore Leonard, Ross MacDonald, Robert Parker, Mickey Spillane, and others. I read some of their novels a second and third time. I read Raymond Chandler again and again, with a special reverence.
Most of Jack Salvo’s qualities are traditional. Like a knight or a Western hero, he has to be strong and brave, and possess a hard-wearing sense of justice. He has to feel empathy for victims and anger at predators. He has to be a soft touch for those in need. Like a savvy cop, he observes the human condition with a balance of cynicism and hope. With regard to integrity, he is no angel, but always honorable.
Q: What are some of the true-to-life Los Angeles locations featured in the book?
Miles: The Sunset Strip has always provided an interesting blend of glamour and corruption. My visits are less frequent than they were in my younger days, but it’s still fun.
Blue Jay Way, in the “Bird Streets” of the Hollywood Hills, was the inspiration for one of the Beatles’ songs.
The older, original sections of Bel Air have a quiet, aristocrat ambience, for the most part. The specific area I had in mind for the Manning residence in The Middle Sister includes the mansion that was used for the exterior shots of the Beverly Hillbillies’ home.
The Castellammare neighborhood in Pacific Palisades is known for its ocean view, the concrete steps that run up and down the hillside, and the mysterious 1935 death of actress Thelma Todd, popularly known as “Hot Toddy.”
Musso and Frank Grill is the oldest eatery in Hollywood. This year is their one-hundred-year anniversary.
Q: Your books definitely have a classic 1940’s private-eye feel to them, but set in modern day. What draws you to that genre?
Miles: Soon after I started my corporate career, I read all the Raymond Chandler mysteries back-to-back. The stories jumped off the page and smacked me in the face. I had never seen words used so economically and so effectively. I knew then that I had to write L.A. private detective fiction. This was a big turnaround for me. I had been a science fiction reader since I was ten years old. I had entertained the idea of writing science fiction, but not crime fiction.
Q: Your novels are set in very interesting locations. Why did you place this one in Los Angeles?
Miles: I understand L.A. I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve seen it from many different perspectives. The nooks and crannies in the canyons are among my favorite places. The historical crime scenes are also interesting.
Jack Salvo might have to travel out of town to pursue evidence in a case, but the heart of the story has to be in L.A.
Q: There’s a philosophical slant to each of your books – what was the motivation behind this unique element?
Miles: When I was in college, there was a brilliant young professor in the Philosophy Department. He wasn’t athletically inclined, but he had the size and appearance of an NFL quarterback. In addition to publishing scholarly papers in philosophy journals, he was a true educator. He wasn’t happy until he saw light bulbs blazing over his students’ heads. He had movie star looks and a top-drawer Ph.D. We’ll call him Professor X.
The girls swooned over him. That was especially annoying to me, since the swooning girls included my favorite coed. He was mild-mannered and uncompromisingly polite, like Clark Kent. He was the sort of man who would speak to the custodian in the same cordial tone as he would to the college president.
I don’t know what sparked this thought, but somewhere in the development of the Jack Salvo character, I asked myself, “What if Professor X were a tough guy with a short fuse? What if he were inclined to punch the noses of the phonies, bullies, and other degenerates that are so prevalent in L.A.? What if he had a compulsion toward frankness and sarcasm that precluded his fitting into a scholastic environment?” It seemed like an interesting blend of erudition and grit, and I went with it.
Q: So what is next for Jack Salvo – is there another book we can expect?
Miles: The title is Theory of Justice, and it’s the fourth book in the Jack Salvo series. Jack’s father Karl was a policeman who was shot down in the line of duty when Jack was six years old. Jack has only a few vague memories of his father, all of them positive. On most mornings, Jack parks his BMW behind his Pico Boulevard office, which is located in a small building he owns. The rear of the BMW sits about a hundred feet from the point where Karl Salvo died in the alley. The story begins with Jack working a few uninteresting cases. Then he is notified that a major clue has turned up in his father’s murder. Compared to the first three books in the series, Theory of Justice is more of a traditional whodunnit, with a list of suspects that has to be whittled down.
JESSE MILES grew up in Central California, where his ancestors had arrived from Arkansas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl migration. When he was eleven years old, his father took him on a business trip to Los Angeles, and little Jesse immediately decided he wanted to live in L.A.
During his college years in Orange County and Los Angeles, his part-time and summer jobs included work as an insurance investigator in the Hollywood area. That work experience provided some thought-provoking insights into the human condition and laid part of the foundation for his writing detective novels.
He earned an MBA at UCLA and put in three decades with a large corporation, working mostly in computer security. Over the years, he worked with a wide range of law enforcement and military intelligence veterans, learning many lessons of criminality, investigation, and survival.
Jesse currently lives in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. His interests include classic films, pro football, and Formula 1. In his spare time he goes to the gym and hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.
For more information, please visit www.jessemilesbooks.com.