Paul has graciously invited me to post an essay about my latest work Three Hours Past Midnight, a novel from Crime Wave Press, set in my hometown, Philadelphia, Pa. In the first few pages the narrator and his partner burglarize the home of a wealthy, jailed Philadelphia politician. It features the un-named protagonist from an earlier story of mine, “Mister Wonderful.”
I typically have a framework in mind before I start to put words on a page, a beginning, middle and end. “Mister Wonderful” began for me as a scene, a dilemma – a man coming to, strapped in the driver’s seat of a car that has come to rest upside down in a shallow, icy streambed. He’s got a broken collarbone and he hears a siren go by on the roadway above him. I worked out who he was and why he was there as that story progressed. Afterward, I found myself still curious about him. For a long time, also, I’d had a vague story idea about the burglary of a certain private home in Philadelphia, a mansion near Center City, that many here mistakenly think belongs to a real-life, notorious, long-time state senator. I liked the idea of a crew breaking into the house and stealing something from him. As the fiction writer Eryk Pruitt says, some people in this world just need to be robbed. I couldn’t get started until I had the right players. After “Mister Wonderful” I knew I had just the guy.
If anything matters to this character, it is his rational approach to problems. He prides himself on his professionalism. So, in Three Hours Past Midnight, when things go bad – his partner murdered and the money gone – he has a choice: tackle the problem or give up and go home. He decides that worse than losing the money, the resulting damage to his reputation among other professionals would be intolerable.
This character is fun for me to write. I like him because he’s smart and resourceful, but also very human. He makes mistakes. He’s shadowy, even to me. I’ve never given him a name. I know what he’s like physically – average height, medium build – but facially, I haven’t a clue. I’m not sure how old he is. I can only see his silhouette, if that makes sense.
I do know a lot about him. He lives in the moment – he won’t celebrate a victory or agonize over a setback – he just keeps going. He’s smart and quick. He’s not a hard guy – he could probably hold his own if necessary, but he wouldn’t want to have to – there’s no money in it. He’d rather settle things with a conversation.
The characters who know him probably consider him fair but dangerous. Most others probably don’t notice him – he’s sort of forgettable. This is a guy who people underestimate. Every so often, a stranger – maybe a civilian, maybe a cop – somehow recognizes him for what he is.
I get bored reading stories that feature a superman or know-it-all. Worse is the hero’s best friend who is the toughest guy in the world. It seems these poor guys only exist to get the hero out of trouble.
This novel is also a sort of echo of my novella Happy Hour, an earlier work about a young grifter who has unwittingly stolen forty thousand dollars from dangerous men. It’s a story of a man on the run through the nighttime streets of Philadelphia, told from the point of view of the pursued.
Three Hours Past Midnight is the hunter’s story. What had appeared to be a simple, straightforward piece of work quickly turns complicated. Along the way, he runs into politics, corruption and organized crime, which in a way are all the same thing. He leaves a lot of wreckage. The end isn’t what he expected.
I’m working on another piece featuring my nameless protagonist, sort of a follow-up to the first short story, and I’m still figuring out who this guy is. He’ll be meeting new people and doing new things, and with a little luck it will be fresh.