Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mystery Writer Mark Coggins on Noir and more

The fabled Noir City festival is set to open this Friday in San Francisco, so I decided to interrogate mystery writer Mark Coggins, author of an acclaimed series of modern San Francisco mysteries featuring the jazz-bass-playing detective August Riordan.

What is your favorite Film Noir and why?

Bill Wilder's 1944 Double Indemnity because of the great dialog (which was co-written by Raymond Chandler). This exchange between insurance salesman Walter Neff and femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson is classic:

Dietrichson: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. 45 miles an hour.
Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Dietrichson: I'd say around 90.
Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Dietrichson: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Neff: Suppose it doesn't take.
Dietrichson: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Dietrichson: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Neff: That tears it...

But my favorite line is uttered by claims adjuster Barton Keyes when Neff turns down the office job Keyes is offering him: "I thought you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. Guess I was wrong. You're not smarter, just taller."

Since I'm a Stanford alum, I also got a kick out of the fact that the murdered husband is strangled en route to Palo Alto for an alumni event. Chandler used to attend the "Big Game" against Cal, so I'm convinced he interjected that detail into the script based on his experience.

Who would you like to play August Riordan in a film?

My first book, THE IMMORTAL GAME, was actually optioned for film and a script was written, but never produced. I did discuss casting with the producer and he was interested in having either Chris Noth (Mr. Big from Sex in the City) or Jeff Goldblum.

At the time, I thought Clint Eastwood would be good because of his connection to San Francisco and--since Riordan plays bass--his interest in jazz. Eastwood is probably a bit long in the tooth for the role now, so I might go with Denis Leary. He's Irish and he's got a smart mouth, both of which are qualities Riordan shares.

What's your next project?

My next book is tentatively titled The Deadbeat Scroll, in which Riordan investigates the theft of a hitherto unknown manuscript by Jack Kerouac.


Coggins' new book, Runoff, has been named one of the best crime novels of the year by January magazine, and selected by Sons of Spade for best wisecracks. He has posted a cool photo slidehow of the book's locations.

For more on Coggins and August Riordan, see immortalgame.com.

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