Author James (Jim) Irving is no stranger to detective work. He worked as a private investigator in his early years, until he pursued a law degree which eventually led to a long career as a criminal lawyer. Now, Jim is the author of the acclaimed Joth Proctor mystery series, which finds the detective investigating crime in the seedy underbelly of Washington D.C. Think Batman, without the cape and cool gadgets, in a very corrupted Gotham City. We had a chance to chat with Jim recently about his books, what Joth’s superhero powers would be, who his favorite fictional sleuths are and much more.
Why did you decide on these books – have you always been a fan of mysteries?
Yes, I’ve enjoyed mysteries since being exposed to Sherlock Holmes in my early teens. I feel that detective and crime tales provide great templates for story-telling. The format encourages you to create a generally familiar situation with developing circumstances that create tension and uncertainty. If you can drop compelling characters who operate under stress into this mix, you are off on an exciting ride.
Tell us about the first two books in the series, Friends like These and Friend of a Friend
Friends Like These opens with Holly Sullivan dead on her couch of an apparent drug overdose. Both Sully, her estranged husband, and Paul, her brother, claim the developable real property she had owned. Joth is Sully’s best friend and Paul’s college teammate and he is caught in the middle. Sully and Paul are both down on their luck and one of them is about to become very wealthy. Both are willing to lie and cheat to get the property, and when people start turning up dead, we wonder what else they are capable of.
The title character in Friend of a Friend is Halftrack Racker, a former lacrosse All-American who runs a shady but successful investment business. Joth guides him through legal scrutiny in a case that pits Joth’s personal standards against his ethical obligations. Proctor’s success only emboldens Track’s dark side and in the end, Joth must not only decide what justice requires, but implement it as well.
You were a private detective! Tell us an interesting story about those days.
Those were heady times. Grim, sometimes dangerous and often boring days punctuated by the pure elation of success achieved through creativity and daring. Much of what I did was fraud detection for a large insurance company. When they suspected a certain Mr. Wolf was faking the back injury that kept him from working, I was dispatched to find proof. After a lot of leg work and record checks, I learned that Wolf was now Mr. Fox and operating a wildly successful gentleman’s club and adjacent jewelry emporium in Baltimore. I got the proof I needed, including a beautiful turquoise ring I bought with insurance company funds and which my boss wore until the day he retired. I also got out of there by the skin of my teeth. When Mr. Fox realized he was about to lose his tax-free monthly check from the insurance company, he wasn’t happy. But that’s another story.
What are some of your favorite genres outside of mystery?
Historical fiction. Like detective fiction, these stories often turn on corrupting human motivations like jealousy, lust for power, and greed, and thus place a magnified focus on the kind of human conduct we often witness on a more intimate and more personal scale in the private detective’s world.
A large portion of our readers are fans of the superhero genre – if Joth had a superpower, what would it be?
Joth would want the power of invisibility. He’s a bit of an introvert with an inclination to keep out of the spotlight. And the truth would be much easier – and less dangerous – to ascertain if he could slip in and out of sight at will.
What would be his kryptonite (weakness)?
Joth’s weakness emanates from his strength. He is loyal to a fault, and sometimes his commitment to friends and clients overrules his common sense and leads him to make mistakes and unwise decisions. He is conscientious and strives to do the right thing, but when weighed in the balance against the needs of those he is loyal to, he can make decisions that tend to undermine his own success and put him at risk.
In your opinion, who has portrayed the PI most successfully on film? Some of our favorites are Jack Nicholson as JJ Gittes, Warren Beatty as Dick Tracey, and of course Bogart as Sam Spade.
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown is the gold standard but in my opinion, the most realistic film portrayal of the private eye is James Garner in the old Rockford Files TV show. In terms of life style, the sort of cases he’s asked to handle, and his approach to his work, Rockford is as close to the real thing as it gets.
Do PI’s work directly with the police force or is there a sense of competition there? Most of the films out there portray that relationship to be quite competitive.
For whatever reason, I’ve generally found the police to be grudgingly cooperative at best. I won’t speculate as to the reason, and I’ve experienced numerous exceptions to this general rule, but usually you work around them or through them – very carefully.
What is your opinion of the popularity of true crime right now? There seems to be a new documentary released weekly – is it the suspense/, the murder, or perhaps the mini detective in all of us trying to solve the crime.
Detective fiction is pure escapism rooted in the real world. People want to cheer for or against the various characters and want to see how justice will be done – or defeated. They also want real world people and situations they can identify with. I think this is the advantage detective fiction has over science fiction and is why it is and will remain a preferred genre.
When will the next book be released?
I expect Friend of the Court to be published before the end of the year.
Who would like to see play Joth on film?
My daughter, who knows about such things, says Bradley Cooper or John Krasinski.
For more information, visit https://www.jamesvirving.com.