Death of a Brooklyn Landlord
When newly-widowed Lorraine McDuffy gets a call in the middle of the night, it’s not the ghost of her dead husband on the line, but the trembling voice of an old flame, Frank Rizzo, a local butcher. He’s found the battered body of rent-gouging Brooklynlandlord, Viktor Charnov. Felled by blunt trauma to the back of his head, the victim lies in the fetal position in the back of Frank’s shop, a pork chop clenched between his teeth.
Q: Susan Russo Anderson joins me today to talk about her latest Lorraine McDuffy mystery, Death of a Brooklyn Landlord. Aside from murder, what is the book about?
A: Hello Frankie. Thanks for having me, and thanks for such thoughtful questions. Being the first Lorraine McDuffy mystery, Death of a Brooklyn Landlord introduces us to Lorraine at a time when she is grieving for her husband’s death—his death was sudden and happened a year before the story starts. But she is also in the midst of resisting a new romance with an old flame. And she is heavy into the guilt of it. So it is about Lorraine’s reluctant romance and how grief and guilt, inseparable, change us. Lorraine is a baby boomer, so the book is also about the struggle we boomers have against becoming dispensable.
Q: What kinds of research have you done for this series?
A: I am always refreshing my knowledge of Brooklyn although my husband and I lived there for fourteen years. But Brooklyn changes so I try to visit every six months or so and I find that while many of its neighborhoods have changed, its core remains the same and when I walk the streets, I rediscover the part of me that still lives there. Beyond refreshing my intimate knowledge of place, I of course researched death by blunt trauma which is how the victim in this book has died.
Q: Your biography states that like Faulkner’s Dilsey, you’ve “seen the best and the worst, the first and the last.” Tell us about something you saw or experienced when you when you were researching or writing this series.
A: Like so many of you, I have experienced the sudden death of someone close to me. Before that, I was at the World Trade Center in 1993 when it was bombed, and I was there again on September 11. As I write this, I can still smell the acrid smoke, see the flames, hear the cries for help, feel the ground shake beneath my feet. We all have these moments: one second, life is fine; the next, it’s a searing rubble. Unforgettable. And I think it’s that sudden catastrophic change that reverberates and colors the way I experience everything and that caused me to begin writing mysteries. Because, in the end, mysteries explore the sudden alteration of life and the new world that is its aftermath.
Q: Do you have any personal experience with landlords like the one in this book?
A: Yes, and I’m sure I’m not alone! In one of our apartments, it was hard to get anything fixed: leaky faucets, running toilets, cracking plaster—these were the norm. But in retrospect, our landlady was not as bad as Viktor Charnov. However, one episode in Death of a Brooklyn Landlord is taken from life: the hall ceiling fell in one of our apartments. I wasn’t home at the time, but my husband was taking a shower when he heard the jarring crash. When he phoned the landlady to tell her, she accused Larry of knocking it down.
Q: Writing can be very solitary. How do you balance the need for solitude with the need to get out and be with people?
A: When I began writing mysteries, I was working in a large office in Manhattan. There were over two thousand of us spread over several floors, and I interacted a lot with people, but I wrote in between—on the train to and from work, while doing chores on the weekend. And I’ve always had a large group of friends. Now I live with my family and I take lunch and dinner with others, but my mornings are devoted to writing and research. And lots of times when I need to figure something out, I walk, usually six miles a day.
Q: What’s one great piece of advice for any aspiring writers reading this? Anything you wish you’d known earlier in your career?
A: I have times when I don’t write and at first that lack of getting words on paper scared me. I thought I’d never pick up a pen, but soon I let my subconscious do the work. When I gave myself space, the ideas and the words began to flow again. So this goal of writing so many words a day is fine for some writers, but it’s not for me. My process is eclectic. Some days I write, some days I don’t. And contrary to popular advice, I edit scenes as I write them, reworking plot, revising. But in the end, I produce full-length novels, at least two a year. What I’m trying to say, is if you’re meant to write, you will, and you’ll find your own process, so relax.
Q: What’s next?
A: A first for me: I’m plotting three books at once, each one in a different series—the fifth book in the Fina Fitzgibbons series, the second book in Lorraine McDuffy series, and a brand new YA mystery, the first book in the Brandy Liam series—she’s the main character in Missing Brandy. Now I’m not a compulsive plotter; I know beginning, middle, end, create other pivotal scenes; and along with the plotting, I develop characters who then plot the rest for me as I write and revise. But developing three stories all at once—this is a first for me and I’m loving it.
Q: I hope you’ll come back to tell us a little more about these books when they’re available.
A: Once again, thanks so much for having me, Frankie, and a big thanks to all of you for reading.
About The Author –
Susan Russo Anderson is a writer, a mother, a member of Sisters in Crime, a graduate of Marquette University. She’s taught language arts and creative writing, worked for a publisher, an airline, an opera company. Like Faulkner’s Dilsey, she’s seen the best and the worst, the first and the last. Through it all, and to understand it somewhat, she writes.
TOO QUIET IN BROOKLYN, the first in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series published December 2013. The second book in the series, MISSING BRANDY, published September 2014, and WHISKEY’S GONE completes a trilogy. Fina’s fourth book, THE BROOKLYN DROP, published August 2015.