Jeffrey Fleishman has Downtown on his mind. The area fascinates the Los Angeles Times reporter and Downtown resident so much that he made it the setting for his first crime novel. My Detective, which came out this spring, follows detective Sam Carver, as he tries to hunt down a brutal killer, Dylan Cross. Cross in turn becomes fascinated by him. The novel is told in alternating chapters, switching between Carver and Cross’ perspectives.
Fleishman sat down with Los Angeles Downtown News at Grand Central Market earlier this month to talk about the novel and his influences.
The interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Los Angeles Downtown News: You already wrote two books, but nothing in the crime fiction genre. What’s the origin of My Detective?
Jeffrey Fleishman: My wife and I moved here five years ago, I had spent most of my time overseas. Los Angeles was a new world to us and I was really struck by Downtown when we got here. I just really noticed the foreignness of the city, being so new to it. But there’s also the mythology of the city, these places of noir and crime. I said, let me try to set a crime noir story in Los Angeles that deals with the alleged quote unquote renaissance happening in Downtown. And what better way to epitomize that aesthetic than to make the killer an architect?
Q: My Detective follows detective Sam Carver, what’s his story?
A: I wanted to keep one foot in the hardboiled genre, I wanted to make him more tied to the legacy of Downtown. I wanted Sam to be a thinking man, somebody who plays the piano on the side. His mother is going through dementia. I wanted him to be a very introspective person who internalizes a lot of things, like his bruised relationship with his father, so he’s dealing with all of these things. He also has this righteous sense that every crime must be solved, but Dylan throws him a kind of curve in how he looks at killers and suspects.
Q: Tell us about Dylan Cross. What drives this killer architect?
A: What I wanted to do with Dylan was put her in the milieu of architects who believe — and she’s not one of these people — there are people who see a city and think they know what it should look like.
I wanted her to be motivated by two things, vengeance, but I wanted her to be a character who was questioning the crime.
Q: What Downtown locations specifically factor into the story?
A: Right here, Grand Central Market, for one. Carver and his captain Ortiz would come, and Ortiz would just fume about how the city has changed. He talks about all of these shops and how the city is losing its grit and soul. Carver disagrees a little. Over in front of the old Clark Hotel, there is one of the characters, Esmeralda, a homeless woman. When Carver can’t sleep he comes down and sits with her and they drink tea and scotch.
Walt Disney Concert Hall factors into it, and all of these places. Of course there’s a beach scene and a San Gabriel scene, but much of the book is set in Downtown.
Q: You said Carver is very in the mold of the hardboiled detective. So like those classic ones, does he have a favorite watering hole?
A: Yeah, when Carver can’t sleep he goes to the Last Bookstore and thumbs through chapters of his favorite authors, and then he walks over to the Little Easy across the street. The Little Easy factors in a lot. He’s in there pretty often.
Q: It sounds like you really wanted to explore Downtown’s transformation.
A: I think anybody living in Downtown is both startled and amazed by what’s happening. The “new L.A.” is pushing in; it’s this mix of homelessness, developers and the hipsters. Look at [Grand Central Market]; five years ago it was all Latino markets, now you can get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for $10. That’s what really intrigued me. I want to put this into a book.
Q: You have another Carver novel out next year. Should we expect more Downtown? Killer hipsters?
A: Hipsters factor into both books. Sam riffs on hipsters in My Detective, when he’s walking between Whole Foods on Grand Avenue and [Grand Central Market] and he goes off. He kind of admires them, but feels behind the times.
The second book, it’s called Last Dance, deals with the death of a famous Russian ballerina in the Spring Street Lofts and really takes in Downtown and Hollywood.
My Detective by Jeffrey Fleishman is out now through Blackstone Publishing.