Thank you, Elizabeth, for hosting my guest posts about my experiences revisiting my first mystery series which featured Iris Thorne–a single, sexy, and ambitious Los Angeles investment adviser. The books were originally published by Simon and Schuster in the nineties and were long out-of-print. They’ve been refreshed and are now available for the first time as e-books and trade paperbacks.
Before reissuing the Iris Thornes, I decided to reread them because I’d lost touch with their nuances over the years. Of course, I couldn’t help but polish them, just a little. In the process, I embarked on a more significant journey of reconnecting with the writer, and the person, I was back then.
Today, I’m discussing my path to Foolproof, the fourth Iris, recently again on-sale. The first three Irises, Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, and Fast Friends, are also out now. The fifth and final Iris Thorne mystery, Pushover, never before published in the U.S., will be out later this year.
In Foolproof, first published in 1998, Iris’s work life and personal life brutally collide when her dear friend Bridget is murdered by the backyard pool of her oceanfront mansion. The horrific crime is witnessed by Bridget’s five-year-old daughter, Brianna. The prime suspect is Bridget’s husband and Brianna’s father Kip, the volatile creative genius behind the couple’s computer games company, Pandora. Bridget shocked everyone when she left her majority stake in Pandora not to her husband but to her daughter and named Iris as administrator of Brianna’s trust. Iris is now responsible for a little girl’s financial future—and perhaps even the five-year-old’s life.
Foolproof was the first time I’d plumbed the unique culture of the high-tech industry, a world I knew something about from the inside because for many years I was the Marketing Director for a small software company. I closely worked with brilliant and mercurial software designers and demanding and eccentric entrepreneurs and have the scars to show for it. Kidding. A little.
In the mid-nineties, a computer game called Doom swept our office. Doom was at the vanguard of a coming wave of realistic and violent kill-or-be-killed computer games. Several of my coworkers were obsessed with Doom. They had games going all the time, ducking supervisors at work and playing until the wee hours at home. One technically apt guy downloaded the game’s specs from the Internet and programmed a play arena that looked just like our office suite. I thought, “There’s a story here.” I investigated further and bought some computer games to play at home. I was a pretty miserable player and didn’t progress very far, but I gained inspiration for Slade Slayer, the anti-hero of Pandora’s signature series of games.
Around then, I saw an article in the New York Times about the notorious corporate raiders of the 1980s and where they were a decade later, inspiring me to create Foolproof’s T. Duke Sawyer–a rapacious corporate raider who emerges as Iris’s nemesis in a fight over Pandora’s Initial Public Offering. IPOs were a hot topic in the news back then, turning young entrepreneurs working out of their parents’ garages into multimillionaires overnight. In Foolproof, Bridget wants a Pandora IPO. Kip is rabidly opposed to losing control over his creation.
Also in the news then was the O.J. Simpson double murder trial. I was a trial junkie. Through my character Kip Cross, I explored what it would be like to be a prominent man who many people think murdered his wife trying to go about his life. The way Kip behaves after Bridget’s murder doesn’t help bolster his claims of innocence.
Iris’s personal life moves forward in Foolproof when she buys her first house. I went house hunting for Iris with a college buddy, Laurance, who was an L.A. taxi driver back then. I wanted to give Iris an ocean view (something I’ve always coveted). Laurance drove me in his taxi around the beautiful neighborhood of Castellammare near Santa Monica on which I modeled Iris’s new neighborhood of “Casa Marina.”
Laurance was a aficionado of Los Angeles’s cement staircases that climb the steep hills in some of the city’s older neighborhoods, built before cars were commonplace. The neighborhood in Northeast L.A. where I grew up has a couple and so does Castellammare. Fans of L.A.’s staircases walk them and chronicle them. As Laurance and I walked the narrow Castellammare staircases, pushing away overgrown brush, my imagination sparked. The staircases figure prominently in Foolproof.
In all my books, I’ve tried to stretch further and take on new challenges. I get bored writing a series unless I do something different with each book. Foolproof was my most well-researched book up to then. For Foolproof, I read Wired magazine and all I could about the computer industry. I researched venture capital investing, investment banking, and entrepreneurs—things I knew a little, but not enough, to convincingly write about. This set a precedent for the research I would do for my Detective Nan Vining thrillers in the 2000s when I took my research up a few notches to authentically capture Nan’s police department culture.
Foolproof was also the first book I outlined from beginning to end before I started writing. This was hard work, but it started a discipline that I continued with my Nan Vining series.
I tried to push the envelope in another way with Foolproof in that I broke one of the cardinal rules of writing a mystery. I don’t want to insert spoilers here so I won’t reveal what I did. At the time I thought, “This is great. This is bold.” Reading the book anew, I don’t think that plot thread works. My editor commented about it at the time and I argued to leave it alone. She was right. If I were to rewrite the book, I’d leave it out. If you want to know what I’m talking about, email me through my website.
I had a lot of fun writing Foolproof and revisiting it years later. Even though it was written 15 years ago, the dramas in the high-tech world and the personalities could be taken from today’s headlines. And people will always be trying to dream up the perfect, foolproof scheme.