James L’Etoile: Face of Greed +Interview

It’s quite the crime scene that Detective Emily Hunter and her partner, Javier Medina, walk into.

Not for the crime itself, but for the two men present, the Mayor and the Chief of Police. That doesn’t bode well for the investigation.

It’s a home invasion resulting in the death of Roger Townsend and his wife Lori being injured.

It’s not long before the detectives make connections to bribery and a criminal organization.

It’s a lot for Hunter right now, as she’s dealing with her mother’s advancing Alzheimer at the same time fending off the constant interference from the upper ranks.

Face of Greed is a great book and gives us da strong female lead, because James L’Etoile writes women that way, real, not idealized. It’s one of the reasons I admire his style.

Links to previous reviews of his books:

Dead Drop and Black Label

I met James in October 2019 at the Bouchercon Dallas. I think he helped me up from the pavement when I was practicing shenanigans by being a body in the street behind an ambulance (don’t ask!) It’s my pleasure to bring this latest read to you.

Serial killers, prison gang shot callers, and street thugs all have a story of how they became what they are, and how they hope to survive life on the inside. That story – if you can get to it, is eye opening.

Face of Greed is a brand-new series, tell us about it.

Face of Greed is a new series featuring Detective Emily Hunter and she’s turned out to be a blast to write. Emily is smart, a little snarky, not afraid to speak her mind, and might cut a few corners to get the job done. She hates bureaucracy and red tape. Under it all, she’s got a big heart and if you’re someone she cares about, she’ll walk over hot coals for you. Cross her, and she’s likely to bury you under those hot coals.

The storyline in Face of Greed was inspired by one of the first murder cases I worked. The opening scenes of the book involve a home invasion gone wrong. A politically connected power broker is murdered. In the real-life version, a real estate broker was killed at home in front of his family. Three Aryan Brotherhood affiliated gang members ransacked the home, terrorized the family, and shot the homeowner.

The gang members claimed the homeowner was a drug dealer and her was holding out on them. One declared he shot the man in self-defense after the homeowner pulled a gun from a floor safe. Their story quickly fell apart, and as gang members often do, they turned on one another to get a better deal from the prosecutor.

Something about that case stuck with me over the years. When it came time to write Face of Greed’s opening scenes, I thought about that home invasion and wondered “what if” there was something going on in that home and “what if” the victim wasn’t at all what he pretended to be?

This series is set in Sacramento, California and admittedly the city doesn’t have the panache of a New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto. What it does have is crime and a lot of it. The nature of the city as a state capitol means you have thousands of commuters and transient corporate types moving in and out every day. No one really knows these people, and in this veil of anonymity, the seeds of crime germinate. Thousands of homeless line the streets and riverbanks, gangs infest several neighborhoods, and a dark history of serial killers with ties to Sacramento, make the city an interesting setting for crime fiction. A city that pretends to be one thing, but a darker shadow city lurks just below the surface.

Not to be outdone, the Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Dead Drop, the first book in a new series featuring Detective Nathan Parker, was released in July 2022. Just how many principal characters live in your head?

Ha! It does get a bit crowded in my head at times. The characters from The Nathan Parker series (Dead Drop and Devil Within) and The Emily Hunter series have shouting matches for my attention.

Writing two series does have its challenges. Devoting the time to each one, getting the manuscripts drafted, edited, and submitted on schedule is important. I’ve fallen into a routine to make sure I hit the production schedules and it does help me stay on track.

What’s helpful when sitting down to write is that the two series are very different. They feature two different lead characters in Nathan Parker and Emily Hunter. Sure, they are both detectives, but where Emily is solid, snarky, and surefooted, Nathan is haunted by his partner’s death and deals with survivor’s guilt. Both are thrown off-balance in their stories, but for different reasons.

The tone of the two series are different, and the settings are vastly opposite -the open desert and the southwest, and the west coast urban environment. The themes of the two series have been different with Nathan dealing with undocumented migrants, drug cartels, and life on (and over) the border. Emily faces complex crime in the city where political influence, power, and corruption are hidden in the cracks and shadows.

Right now Emily’s voice is the loudest in my head as I’m writing book three in her series. Book two, River of Lies comes out late 2024, or January 2025. Book three in Nathan’s series, Served Cold, hits in July 2024.

Your career in Corrections has informed your writing. Is there an aspect of that, that was a surprise or unexpected?

I think working in the prison world has helped me create the stories I write. The biggest surprise is that I don’t write prison books, or down in the gutter noir, after seeing the worst that society has to offer. What I did take away from twenty-nine years on the inside was those characters. Characters on both sides of the bars have been important to give me the depth and layered approach in these stories. I’ve found the real story might not be about the crime itself, but what the crime does to everyone around it. It’s like a rock thrown into a pond—the ripple touches lives in a way that might not have been expected.

You have published several books, did you begin by writing flash fiction, or short stories?

I kind of ran and jumped into the deep end. I began with novel length fiction. Screenplays and short stories came much later. For me, it’s like a different muscle memory for each. The short story is a tight quick hit and screenplays are a visual medium, telling a story through dialogue and character interactions on screen. I think I’m most comfortable (even though most of the time I’m sightly terrified) when I’m writing novel length fiction where I get to tell the story in the time and space that I need to tell it.

Is there one thing you’re never asked you’d like to speak about?

That’s a hard one. People ask about the books, characters, and where the story ideas come from. Most of the books and short stories have a tie to some event, incident, or character I’ve run up against over my career. They’ve even asked about what prison is like and I’ve presented classes on what happens after the cell door shuts.

What people don’t think to ask is what it’s like to be locked in a prison for eight hours a day, for months on end. You, as a correctional officer, or lieutenant, or associate warden, are doing time along with the convicts you supervise. You develop a relationship with them and come to understand how they ended up behind bars with you. Serial killers, prison gang shot callers, and street thugs all have a story of how they became what they are and how they hope to survive life on the inside. That story—if you can get to it, is eye opening.

Thanks so much for letting me come and spend some time with you at Murder in Common.

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. His novels have been shortlisted or awarded the Lefty, Anthony, Silver Falchion, and the Public Safety Writers Award. Face of Greed is his most recent novel. Look for Served Cold and River of Lies, coming in 2024. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com

7 responses to “James L’Etoile: Face of Greed +Interview”

  1. Fascinating interview and review, June. Imagine having the ability to write series!
    And not one, but two, fascinating sets of lead characters…bravo!
    Must be the perfect background for these novels which sound wonderful. Must reads!!

  2. Congratulations on the new series, and I hope it’s a success. I think that’s a really interesting point about how prison staff are incarcerated, too. You don’t tend to think of that when you think of prisons, but it’s true. And I would bet that they do, indeed, get to know the people in their care. That relationship must be fascinating; thanks for sharing aobut it.

    • Thanks, Margot! The staff who work there really are serving time along with the men and women sent there. Some think of it as life on the installment plan. It does provide a unique window to observe character.

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