Suburban Dick is about the adventures of Gus Harris, a private investigator (“dick”), caught between the woman he can’t get serious with and the family life he ruined over her. The parents of a missing high school student send Gus on a wild trek through the seedy underbelly of Horton High’s wrestling program. The blood doesn’t stay on the mats.
SA: I’m a big fan of setting in any story. Suburban Dick takes place in a town called Horton. Let’s say I moved there a year ago, right next door to Gus Harris’s crash-pad/office. What do I know about Horton that someone passing by on the highway couldn’t know?
CD: It’s a town full of secrets, but I can’t give any away here. I’ll tell you it’s a fictionalized version of the small town I grew up in, and it’s been the setting for three of my books so far. I’ll also add that it seems to have a strangely high level of low lives and crime. Maybe it’s something in the water?
SA: Gus was a Horton Police officer before becoming a private eye. Was there a case that stuck with him, one that help shaped his investigative approach?
CD: There are two specific cases and they’re both mentioned in the book. One involved a dead girl when Gus was still a kid, it was local news and an innocent guy nearly went down for what in the end was a tragic accident. The media surrounding that case spurred his interest in police work, but also showed him a dark side, the fact that an innocent man was bullied and beaten into confessing to a non- existent crime. It made him aware of a path of least resistance in police work, which he vows to avoid. The second case is the one that ultimately led to his leaving the force and it again has to do with integrity. Gus is pressured by his superiors to look the other way regarding a local politician’s kid, classic nepotism. Gus is new to the force at the time and never really forgives himself for his lack of integrity. Despite his flaws Gus has a deep seated desire for truth and justice.
SA: I think every story has a theme, but that’s my opinion. I sensed a theme of “getting what you want at any cost.” I see it in Coach Hanson (the main baddie) but also in Gus when he needs something. If you were going for a theme, was it this? And what’s your take on having a “line” and having a justification to cross it? Do Gus and Coach Hanson both have a line that they cross?
CD: Without giving too much away, it’s pretty clear that Hanson crossed the line with the Horton wrestlers. Greed is his motivator, but ultimately it’s not the money itself, but the adulation of the community and school. This relates to the theme that I saw emerge which is about protecting what’s valuable, for Hanson obviously he’s protecting both his legacy and his cash cow. Gus on the other hand is protecting his family, his loved ones. There really is no “line” with regards to protecting the people Gus cares about and he demonstrates that a few times in the book.
SA: Another theme I noticed was a real “monster” theme, and you touched into a real fear about performance enhancing drugs. And it ties into the earlier theme I mentioned. What do you think drives a young athlete to dope? Is it just the competitive edge, or is it something else?
CD: Ha! Glad you picked up on the monsters. But as for performance enhancers, yeah, it’s the edge and what comes with it: wins, scholarships, maybe a payday down the line. We live in a culture that puts a very high premium on athletic ability, so it’s really no surprise that people want to give themselves that edge. Then you have the types of parents who get a vicarious thrill living through their kids and of course there’s going to be that cohort that who will put that success before the welfare of their kids.
SA: It definitely feels like Suburban Dick is the first of the “Gus Harris” series. I’m hoping you can get more into Gus’s complicated relationship with the Horton PD. Is there anything you can say about that part of his life to get us tuned in?
CD: I’ve got something happening for Gus but to be honest I’m not sure. I may relocate him. I live in southern Arizona and I have yet to write a book set here so that could be fun. Otherwise we can expect some more of the same. He’ll have ruined another relationship and managed to squander whatever goodwill he’d managed to generate in Suburban Dick. Hopefully, he’ll learn something from it.