The HBO series True Detective, which wraps up Sunday (March 9) at 9 p.m., has been a showcase for Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who play partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division.
As Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson), the two actors dial down their usual on-screen personas to create a multi-layered story about the hunt for a killer that spans over 17 years.
McConaughey, in his pre-Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club, is mesmerizing as Cohle, a man who has lost everything when the series begins in 1995 and has further spiralled down when he and Hart are called back when the investigation reopens in 2012.
Harrelson’s bombastic personality is channelled into Hart’s arrogance and inability to see anything but his own needs.
As good as McConaughey and Harrelson are, another star is even more important to True Detective—the series’ writer, creator and executive producer Nic Pizzolatto.
Pizzolatto deserves full credit for what True Detective is—a complex look at how an investigation into a horrible murder affects the two detectives, neither of whom was all that mentally secure to begin with.
Pizzolatto’s first novel Galveston was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award. He also has written a couple of short story collections.
In addition to True Detective, Pizzolatto has been hired by Universal to write the script for The Rockford Files movie. Vince Vaughn is slated to play the iconic private detective James Rockford in the film.
Mystery Scene caught up with Nic Pizzolatto before the series began and, with the eight-season series now ending, this seemed the right time to post our interview. And if you are new to True Detective, start at the beginning, which is being encored on HBO and also is On Demand. Or wait for the DVD.
Mystery Scene: How did your background as a Louisiana native play intoTrue Detective’s scenery.
Pizzolatto: The landscape there has always haunted me and that setting was very important to me during my formative years. I’ve always been one of those people affected by my surroundings. I think of the landscape as the third lead in True Detective.
Mystery Scene: Your novel Galveston was nominated for an Edgar in 2010, and True Detective is very much crime fiction. What are your thoughts on crime fiction?
Pizzolatto: I certainly have crime fiction authors I love, but I am not a genre guy. I pushed myself into the crime genre because I like a plot. Most of my artistic obsessions—time, memory, character, the unknowability of our lives—that all fits very nicely under sort of existentialism of crime fiction embraced by noir.
I just like a good story. Fundamentally, I am always concerned about character, and I think you see that in True Detective. I am not interested in serial killers and I am not in some competition to see who can come up with the most disgusting serial killer.
I am just concerned about the humanism of these characters locked in this situation. And if you are going to trade in realistic plots, the ones that feature some form of criminality are the ones that are easiest for me to latch onto.
Mystery Scene: Did any one novel or movie influenceTrue Detective?
Pizzolatto: There have been so many influences from TV and books, but my love of theater also influenced True Detective. Particularly in the narrative style of having the story told. Theater is great story telling and great acting. And in True Detective you see a lot of scenes of the actors by themselves just talking to the camera. I have always had a love for the theatrical concept of the monologue. I love to see characters being given the chance to account for themselves.
Great plays are just characters telling a story. I like that intimacy that gives you a direct link to the character and allows you to see all their evasions and flaws. It also brings out those layered nuances that you have in fiction and that have great appeal to me
Mystery Scene: So many partners in cop novels and films are best friends. Yours are not.
Pizzolatto: Tension, in any genre, is fundamental in character, and Cohle and Hart have a lot of tension between them. When I started to write this during the summer of 2010, I thought True Detectivewould become a book. And in a way it is a novel that has taken a different form. It’s mainly a two first-person narrative, as it might be in a novel.
Most compelling to me was how these two men react to each other. They are both very complicated men. Each represents a number of contradictions. Neither knows how to live properly and they don’t know how to live in completely different ways. Hart, on the surface, should be the most grounded. He has all the things—family, children, marriage—that should anchor him. Cole is more of an island yet behaves with more control, responsibility and integrity. Both willing to cross the line of civilized behavior if their sense of justice is violated.
Mystery Scene: Were Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson who you pictured in these roles?
Pizzolatto: It was written with them in mind, and they really make the most of that tension. Then after they really were cast, I went back to the first two episodes and retooled them for Matthew and Woody so True Detective would have their voice.
Photo: Nic Pizzolatto on the set of True Detective. Photo courtesy HBO/Michele K. Short
True Detective's finale airs at 9 p.m. (EST/Pt) Sunday, March 9, on HBO. Frequent encores will run each week. True Detective is available On Demand; DVD will be coming soon.
It was with great sadness that we report that author Aimée Thurlo has died this week from cancer.
Aimée Thurlo and her husband, David, wrote three separate mystery series, each focusing on a very different investigator but each also showcased the Southwest.
Together and separately, the Thurlos published more than 70 novels.
In one of those twists of life, our latest Holiday Issue No. 132 featured Lynn Kaczmarek’s insightful interview with Aimée and David Thurlo. You can read the full feature online HERE.
Their main series featured Ella Clah, a special investigator for the Navajo Police Department.
The Sister Agatha novels revolved around the former Mary Naughton who was an investigative reporter and teacher before she became Sister Agatha of Our Lady of Hope, a cloistered, financially struggling monastery in New Mexico.
The couple went to the supernatural for their novels about Lee Nez that featured the unusual partnership between New Mexico State Police Officer Lee Nez, who is a nightwalker, a Navajo vampire, and FBI Agent Diane Lopez.
The couple’s latest novel is Pawnbroker, about Charlie Henry who recently returned from special ops work in Iraq and now runs the Three Balls pawnshop.
Their last novel will be Eagle’s Last Stand, due to come out later in 2014.
The Thurlos have received the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award, a Willa Cather Award for Contemporary Fiction, and the New Mexico Book Award for Mystery and Suspense.
Our deepest sympathies go to the Thurlo family.
Robin Thicke sings about blurring the lines, but mystery writers have been doing that for years.
The myriad categories of crime fiction have increasingly been melding. And that is good news for readers as it means stories that are deeper, richer, and more realistic.
Police procedurals blend with character studies. Legal thrillers are quasi private detective tales. Science fiction evolves into police procedurals for a look at futuristic cops.
Jennifer McMahon has been added touches of the gothic in her plots for several novels. Her 2013 best-seller The One I Left Behind was a gripping psychological thriller about the affects of childhood trauma with a touch of the gothic to make the story even more fascinating.
In The Winter People, a string of disappearances in a small Vermont town date back to 1908 when a grisly murder and the death of a child changed the town.
The Winter People is equally a mystery as well as a ghost story—a chilling tale no matter what the genre.
McMahon currently is on tour for The Winter People, her first hardcover novel after a string of best-selling paperback originals. She’ll also be at SleuthFest this week.
Now Patterson has announced that he will be giving $1 million to independent bookstores to help support them. He will be donating $267,000 to 55 bookstores as well as to California Bookstore Day on May 3.
The grants range from $2,000 to $15,000; the average donation is $4,750. The rest of the $1 million will be disbursed in stages during the rest of the year, according to his web site.
Patterson says that the only requirements were that stores be "viable" and have a children's section.
In a statement, Patterson said, “Every day, booksellers are out there saving our country's literature. The work they do to support schools and the rest of their communities leaves a lasting love of reading in children and adults. I believe their work is vital to our future as a country.”
Some of the stores submitted proposals for how they would use money; some were recommended by industry professionals. Nine stores were recommended by fellow authors Kate DiCamillo, Pam Munoz Ryan, Brian Selznick, R.L. Stine and Clare Vanderpool. (Booksellers and book lovers can continue to suggest favorite stores at JamesPatterson.com.)
Stores aren't required to report on how they use the money, but Patterson has said he hopes stores will share their experiences and how the money leads to change in the stores.
One store has state it will use the money to bring children's authors to local schools and the store. Another will put the grant toward buying a van for mobile author events and book fairs. Others will use the money for needed repairs such as damaged floors and worn carpeting.
Needless to say, the bookstore owners are thrilled and appreciative.
In a New York Times story, Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera and San Francisco, Calif., said, "We can't have a business plan that says James Patterson is is going to come along and give us something every year, but these are things that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
“It wouldn't mean we'd go out of business, but it would mean that this particular dream would be put off for a few years,” added Petrocelli whose grant is going toward buying a van for mobile author events and book fairs.
The First Round of Stores
The following are the 55 stores (and California Bookstore Day) receiving the first round of James Patterson's grants of $1 million, ranging from $2,000 to $15,000, and what some of them are doing with them, as noted by the stores or media, according to Shelf Awareness. Not all stores disclosed the amount of their awards:
California Bookstore Day ($15,000 for marketing and publicity)
A Whale of a Tale, Irvine, Calif.
Alamosa Books, Albuquerque, N.M.
Anderson's, Naperville, Ill. (recommended by R.L. Stine)
Andover Bookstore, Andover, Mass.
Bank Street Bookstore, New York, N.Y.
Book Bin, Northbrook, Ill.
Book Culture, New York, N.Y.
Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif. (toward the purchase of a van for mobile author events and book fairs)
Book Revue, Huntington, N.Y. (keep employees, pay property tax, repair floor and roof)
The Bookies, Denver, Colo.
The BookLoft, Great Barrington, Mass.
BookPeople, Austin, Tex.
Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla.
Books & Greetings, Northvale, N.J.
Books of Wonder, New York, N.Y. (recommended by R.L. Stine)
Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif. ($4,500 to bring children's authors to schools and the store)
The Bookstore Plus, Lake Placid, N.Y.
Booktenders, Doylestown, Pa. (recommended by Brian Selznick, finish gallery)
Bookworks, Albuquerque, N.M.
Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex. ($5,000 for kids' programming)
Brewster Book Store, Brewster, Mass.
Broadside Book Shop, Northampton, Mass.
Browseabout Books, Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Children’s Book World, Los Angeles, Calif.
Children's Book World, Haverford, Pa. (recommended by Brian Selznick, $2,500 for authors visiting schools)
The Children's Bookstore, Baltimore, Md. (possibly add to program to help teachers buy books for use in classes)
Doylestown Bookshop, Doylestown, Pa. (creative space for older children)
Eighth Day Books, Wichita, Kan. (recommended by Clare Vanderpool)
Gallery Bookshop/Bookwinkle Children, Mendocino, Calif. ($5,000 for computer system upgrades)
Hicklebee's, San Jose, Calif. (new computer system and manager bonus)
Innisfree Bookshop, Lincoln, N.H.
Lake Forest BookStore, Lake Forest, Ill.
Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, Ga. (purchase of a bookmobile)
Malaprop's Bookstore and Café, Asheville, N.C. ($7,500 for floor restoration and new carpeting)
Mysterious Galaxy, Redondo Beach and San Diego, Calif.
Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vt. (kids' programming)
Oblong Books, Millerton, N.Y. ($7,500 for roof repairs)
Odyssey Book Shop, South Hadley, Mass.
Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, Colo. ($2,500 for a summer reading program)
Page & Palette, Fairhope, Ala.
Park Road Books, Charlotte, N.C. ($2,500 for new carpeting)
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn.
Percy's Burrow, Topsham, Me. ($2,500)
Phoenix Books, Essex Junction, Vt. ($5,000 for community outreach)
Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass.
Reading Reptile, Kansas City, Mo. (recommended by Brian Selznick)
Red Balloon, St. Paul, Minn. (recommended by Kate DiCamillo)
Russo's Marketplace Books, Bakersfield, Calif.
Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, Mich. (books for children)
Subterranean Books, St. Louis, Mo.
Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass. (iPad to sell books at off-site events, a video camera and a small PA system)
Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis, Minn. (recommended by Kate DiCamillo)
Wonderland Books, Rockford, Ill.
The Yellow Brick Road, San Diego, Calif. (recommended by Pam Munoz
Ideas for novels can come from so many sources. Sometimes a newspaper clipping, a phrase in a novel or even a conversation overheard in an airport lounge can spark that imagination.
J.A. Jance, currently on tour for her latest Ali Reynolds’ novel Moving Target, has used conversations with friends, a cruise and an art exhibit about domestic abuse for her inspiration. Second Watch, her last novel about Seattle investigator J.P. Beaumont, was tribute to a high school friend.
James Grippando uses the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that affected the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago for his latest thrill Black Horizon.
Michael Connelly used a crime that took place on his first day as a reporter for the L.A. Times as a springboard for Black Echo, his first Harry Bosch.
Laura Lippman used a real incident in Baltimore history for latest stand-alone After I’m Gone.
In this enthralling novel, Baltimore gambler Felix Brewer’s disappearance forever affects the lives of the wife, three daughters, and mistress he leaves behind. In Lippman’s fictional version, a murder also happens.
Lippman’s novel has been garnering universally positive reviews, including from me.
After I’m Gone is based on a piece of Baltimore history. During the 1970s, Baltimore kingpin Julius Salsbury jumped bail while on appeal for a gambling conviction. Salsbury, who has never been captured, also left behind a wife, three daughters and a mistress.
Lippman will be the subject of a profile in the next issue of Mystery Scene.
Currently, she is on tour for After I’m Gone. She’ll be in South Florida this week—details here. And she will be one of the guests of honor at SleuthFest this week.