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Interview: August 8, 2019

Rob Leininger revived the hardboiled PI genre somewhat modeled after Travis McGee and Sam Spade, but in a humorous vein wide as the Truckee River, which flows through Reno, Nevada, the setting for his Gumshoe novels. GUMSHOE ROCK, the fourth installment in this laugh-riot-with-a-message series, finds Mort again in the clutches of the IRS, an organization he left to take on a career as a novice private investigator. Only now, the FBI is involved. In this interview, Leininger chats with’s Dean Murphy about his latest Mortimer Angel adventure, the ladies (Maude Clary, Lucy Landry) in Mort’s world, and a typical day in Leininger’s life. What inspired the unwitting Mortimer Angel character? If martinis, what’s the recipe?

Rob Leininger: No martinis. In fact, I’m not sure where Mort came from, with his offbeat sense of humor and quirks, but he evolved quite naturally from the premise of the first novel in the Gumshoe series. I started with the premise, then Mort came along and took over. The premise, the “hook,” was for a newbie PI, starting a new career, to find the decapitated head of Reno’s mayor in the trunk of his ex-wife’s Mercedes. Things flowed nicely from there.

BRC: Another Mortimer dilemma --- the perfect summer read. How has Mort evolved?

RL: The essence of wisecracking Mort hasn’t changed a lot. He still has a different take on the universe, but he’s a bit older and wiser, and he has learned that the world can be a nasty place when you get involved with very nasty people, so he’s a bit more cautious these days. What hasn’t evolved is how Mort gets involved with these people. He just falls into it, as if there’s a cosmic vacuum that pulls him and people around him into horrendous situations.

BRC: Mort has sleuthed for Jeri DiFrazzia and now Maude “Ma” Clary (detailed in GUMSHOE FOR TWO and GUMSHOE ON THE LOOSE). Is Ma a permanent fixture in the series?

RL: “Ma” is pretty much a tough old broad who has seen it all. Not much in this world surprises her, and she’s comfortable with “extra-legal” justice (read GUMSHOE FOR TWO and GUMSHOE ROCK). She’ll be a permanent fixture in the novels unless something happens to her. I like to keep things loose and spin the plots around in unexpected ways. It came as a huge shock to most people when Jeri DiFrazzia didn’t survive in GUMSHOE FOR TWO. Huge. But it paved the way for Lucy to enter the novels.

BRC: Lucy Landry --- like babes before her --- is beautiful, brilliant, a natural sleuth, and appears young enough to be Mort’s daughter. What inspired her character, other than Mort’s lascivious mind?

RL: Sneaky of you to say “Mort’s lascivious mind,” but I’ll let it go if you’ll buy me a beer. Some women just look young for their age. I wanted it to be a surprise that this “18-year-old” girl was actually 31. I can’t say what inspired her character. I needed her in the novel. Mort needed her. She’s a complicated woman. And she’s as flexible as an anaconda, but I don’t know where that came from either. In fact, I rarely know where any of my characters come from. None of them is modeled after anyone I’ve ever known. I don’t pull from real life that way.

BRC: I’ve been a Mortimer Angel addict since page one of GUMSHOE. What’s in store for Mort in the next outing?

RL: Ah, you want a preview of “Mort Five,” which is currently called GUMSHOE IN THE DARK and is about halfway through its first draft. Well, here’s how the Mort/Gumshoe novels work. Mort gets involved in something entirely unexpected (like finding the mayor’s head in his ex-wife’s Mercedes), things get complicated and increasingly dangerous, and people die, mostly those who deserve it, but you never know. To say more would give away too much. Don’t you like surprises?

BRC: The Private Eye Writers of America nominated GUMSHOE for its prestigious Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Novel of 2015. What other accolades have you earned?

RL: Not many. Novels very often have to be submitted to organizations that pass out awards. I find it incredibly boring to fill out the forms and follow the directions, so much so that I can’t bring myself to do it. Which must mean I’m lazy. My 1991 novel, KILLING SUKI FLOOD, has been optioned for a movie three times: 1) by Warner Bros. 2) by a “third party” in L.A. and 3) it’s currently still under option, 28 years later, by Davis Films. That’s a pretty good award.

BRC: How much of Mort is in Rob Leininger? What makes the author tick?

RL: Let’s see... Mort is taller than I am, heavier, stronger, younger, better looking, and girls “flock to him like pigeons to a statue.” That said, there’s clearly very little of Mort in Rob Leininger, sad to say, except, oddly enough, we have the same sense of humor. As an author, I tick via pure imagination. A muse sits on my shoulder and slaps the back of my head when something I write doesn’t work well. Sometimes, though, my muse falls asleep. Not my fault. A typical day in my writing life is: I sit down, I “live” the scenes I’m typing so I just record what’s going on, and then I quit and walk the dogs. Repeat the next day. Also, I like rewriting more than getting that first draft down. I usually go through about 10 drafts before a novel is ready for the world.

BRC: Thank you for a thrilling read, and this interview. It’s open mic night. Final thoughts?

RL: In case it’s not obvious, I’m not a big fan of the IRS. They probably don’t like me, either, but they make a wonderful, stationary target. Mort is ex-IRS “because he discovered he has a soul.”