As a reviewer and insider, Ryan Steck has been called “the Godfather of the thriller genre.” In this first contributed piece to BookTrib, Ryan names every thriller hitting the bookshelves this fall that genre aficionados should know about. Visit Ryan at www.therealbookspy.com.
Replacing an icon can’t be easy, but you wouldn’t know that by reading Mike Lupica’s new novel.
Titled Robert B. Parker’s Blood Feud (Putnam Books), Lupica has resurrected Sunny Randall, one of Mr. Parker’s most beloved characters. Already, Parker’s fans have seen Spenser (Ace Atkins) and Jesse Stone (Reed Farrell Coleman) live on through other writers. Only one book in, I think it’s clear that Lupica has best mimicked Parker’s voice and style, while staying truest to the character readers fell in love with. That’s not a knock on Atkins or Coleman, each has done an amazing job with their respective series, but rather it’s a compliment to Lupica for the approach he took in writing Blood Feud.
Just ahead of the book’s release, Lupica–one of America’s best-known sports writers and a New York Times bestselling author in his own right–agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment. I asked him about everything from how he was selected to continue this series to what readers can expect in the next book. See his generous answers below in his interview with The Real Book Spy.
The Real Book Spy: Sunny Randall is finally back! Walk us through the process, if you don’t mind, of how you were chosen to resurrect this beloved character and series. Also, I read you were friends with Robert B. Parker, is that true?
Mike Lupica: We were friends. We met in either the late ’70s or early ’80s when I went up to Boston to do a piece for PBS about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. And then we stayed in touch for the last three decades of his life, mostly emailing about baseball. One night we were both on book tours in Washington, D.C., and staying at the same hotel in Georgetown. We decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant when we were both finished. My bookstore appearance started at 6:30, his at 7. I asked what time I should book the restaurant. He said, ‘Eight-fifteen.’ I said, ‘Bob, what if your talk and signing run long.’ He said, ‘It won’t.’ I wanted to know how he knew that. He grinned. ‘Mikey,’ he said, ‘even if I’m between ‘Robert B.’ and ‘Parker’ at eight o’clock, I’m out of there.’ We had dinner at 8:15. But I had considered him a friend from the time I bought The Godwulf Manuscript at the old Brentano’s on Boylston Street when I was in college. I promise you, I’ve read all the Spenser novels, all the Jesse Stones, all the Sunny Randalls at least twice.
In the early summer of 2017, I was talking to my agent, Esther Newberg, who represents Daniel and David Parker now. I asked why no one had resumed the Sunny series, which I’d always loved. She said she’d find out. She called Ivan Held, now my boss at Putnam, and called back a few hours later and said that Ivan was wondering if I’d be willing to write a sample chapter. I laughed and told Esther that I wasn’t pitching myself to write a Sunny novel. She said, ‘Write the chapter.’ It took me about a day to write it. It’s pretty much the first chapter of Blood Feud. Mr. Parker’s voice had been inside my head for a very long time. Once I wrote the first scene with Sunny and Spike at Spike’s, when she begins by telling him the UPS kid ‘m’am-ed’ her, I just felt as if I were right where I belonged. It was the beginning of an experience, because of Ivan and my wonderful editor, Sara Minnich, that was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my career. I am hard at work now on Sunny 2.
TRBS: How did you come up with the story idea for Blood Feud, and how much research did you have to do, especially in regards to the series itself, before sitting down to write?
ML: I went back and read the six Sunny novels before I started. The Boston part of my research was the easiest part. I went to Boston College, and because of my career as a sports columnist, feel as if I’ve spent a couple of years of my life living in Boston. One of the really fun parts was coming up with a new home for Sunny, a few blocks from the Public Garden. One day, as I was finishing the book, I went back over the River Street Place, just to get a few more details from Sunny’s new neighborhood. And a woman who lives in one of the townhouses there came out to walk her dog. I told her I’d basically borrowed her house, and she happily told my more history about the place. As for the Providence stuff, I relied on my friend (and the real) Mike Stanton, a wonderful columnist from Providence and a guy who just wrote a terrific book on Rocky Marciano. He helped with the geography, and with the bad guys.
TRBS: For those who don’t know much about the series or haven’t read past books, how would you describe Sunny Randall to them?
ML: Sunny is the daughter of a great Boston cop who tried being a cop herself and became a private detective instead. The obvious comparison is to say she’s a female Spenser. But that’s too easy. She’s her own smart, tough, sensitive, funny, complicated nuanced self. In Mr. Parker’s hands, she wasn’t just one of the great woman detectives in fiction. She is simply one of the great detectives, period. I love the fact that Dr. Susan Silverman, Spenser’s great love, is her therapist. I loved that she has a romantic history with Jesse Stone. And I love that she and her ex, Richie, can’t quite figure out how to live happily ever after. Her best friend and sidekick, Spike, is simply one of the best characters to ever spring from the imagination of Robert B. Parker. You start here with Sunny: She’s had some difficulty in her life playing nicely with others. Including Richie.
TRBS: What is your writing process like, and what advice do you have for new writers?
ML: There is no mystery, even if you’re writing mysteries. I write every day. I will write twenty or thirty or forty pages longhand, on plain yellow legal pads (my pal Elmore Leonard told me to stop writing on legal pads; it was easier, he said, without worrying about the lines). So when I type them up on my laptop, it’s almost like a second draft. I’ve spent all of my life being a columnist, in addition to writing novels. I’m used to writing around 1000 words per day. You do that even five days a week, and that’s 100 pages a month. The discipline of writing a column was a perfect training ground to write novels, I just didn’t know when I was starting out in the newspaper business. And when I get close to the end, I write even faster. It feels as if I’m running downhill by then, especially when I can see the finish line. But I will tell you this: I didn’t know the biggest surprise in Blood Feud was coming until I wrote it. When that happens, you really do feel as if you have the best job in the world. The great English playwright, Alan Bennett, once said that the fun of being a writer is that you find out you know things you didn’t know you knew.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you now that Blood Feud is set to come out, and when can readers expect to see Sunny Randall again?
ML: I am four chapters into Sunny 2. I’m not spoiling anything—it happens on Page 1—by telling readers that Richie’s ex-wife is back. And she brings a world of troubles with her, and not just for Richie. Let’s just say it’s not going to be one big happy family. I was as excited to write the first chapter of this one as I was to write that first chapter of Blood Feud. I don’t merely feel lucky to be doing this kind of work, with Robert B. Parker’s name on the cover along with my own, or to be getting the kind of review we got on the Real Book Spy. I feel honored.
Robert B. Parker’s iconic and irresistible PI Sunny Randall is back, and the stakes are higher than ever as she races to protect her ex-husband–and his Mafia family–from the vengeful plan of a mysterious rival.
Sunny Randall is “on” again with Richie, the ex-husband she never stopped loving and never seemed to be able to let go, despite her discomfort with his Mafia connections. When Richie is shot and nearly killed, Sunny is dragged into the thick of his family’s business as she searches for answers and tries to stave off a mob war. But as the bullets start flying in Boston’s mean streets, Sunny finds herself targeted by the deranged mastermind of the plot against the Burke family, whose motive may be far more personal than she could have anticipated…
Robert B. Parker’s Blood Feud is now available for purchase.
ABOUT MIKE LUPICA:
Mike Lupica is one of the most prominent sports writers in America. His longevity at the top of his field is based on his experience and insider’s knowledge, coupled with a provocative presentation that takes an uncompromising look at the tumultuous world of professional sports. Today he is a syndicated columnist for the New York Daily News, which includes his popular “Shooting from the Lip” column, which appears every Sunday. He began his newspaper career covering the New York Knicks for the New York Post at age 23. He became the youngest columnist ever at a New York paper with the New York Daily News, which he joined in 1977. For more than 30 years, Lupica has added magazines, novels, sports biographies, other non-fiction books on sports, as well as television to his professional resume. For the past fifteen years, he has been a TV anchor for ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. He also hosted his own program, The Mike Lupica Show on ESPN2.