Timothy Comstock has worked at the California Department of Consumer Affairs, at CSU Sacramento as a professor and dean of students and as an executive director of the Calfornia Dental Association. “Reunion in Carmel” is his first fiction novel (www.reunionincarmel.com). He will also be doing a signing at the Avid Reader (1600 Broadway) on August 29.
What’s “Reunion in Carmel” about?
The quick rundown is a horrible, awful killer appears out of nowhere in Carmel and perpetrates several heinous crimes. Those crimes absolutely overwhelm the Carmel police force, which at the time I set the book, in the early 1990s, was just a small force of four or five people, pretty used to dealing out parking tickets and getting cats out of trees as their main function. The police chief is a transplant. He was a New Jersey narcotics cop and came out to Carmel after he was injured in New Jersey. He found this job, and life was good, everything was perfect. Carmel is idyllic as you know, and all of a sudden his entire world is falling apart. The community is threatened, the tourist business is threatened, as the killings get so big, and it’s a story of the hunt and the chase to try and bring the killer down.
Why did you think Carmel would be a good setting for a murder mystery?
I’ve been coming to Carmel my entire life, which is now 63 and three-quarters years, and it’s the most peaceful, idyllic, beautiful place in the world. It’s calm, it’s restful, it’s happy, it’s wealthy, it’s carefree, it’s where tourists come to just play golf and have a good time and eat well. I thought juxtaposing something horrible in that idyllic environment might underscore the viciousness of a bad killer in a perfect spot.
Why did you choose to set this in the early ’90s instead of a more modern, present-day setting?
I wanted to do that because there are a couple of points in the story where communication between people is essential. With the advent of commonly used cell phones, texting and computerization, it would have taken some of the suspense away. So it just seemed to me, the better time to set the book. Also, if people like the book and there are follow-ups, it lets me go backwards or forwards as I see fit.
Would you describe this story as a Noir, or more of a straight crime thriller?
There’s a little Noir in it, but not much. I think it’s more a straight crime thriller. The Noir would probably pertain to the killer, and his mind and motivation. Basically, it’s a suspense chase thriller book.
You’ve mostly written non-fiction and worked in the Department of Consumer affairs. What motivated you to start writing fiction?
I did write a couple of non-fiction books. I wrote the history of the Sutter Club and the 125 year history of the YMCA. I’ve written a lot of articles for local publications. I got one in Sports Illustrated many years ago. I just decided after writing history for so long, and having to be accurate on every single point and have double sources and all of that, I wanted to write something where I didn’t have to be accurate. I could say whatever the heck I wanted. Also, I read so many murder mysteries myself, that I just decided that I know I could write one, as least as good as the ones I’d been reading and buying.
Your main character is a detective from New Jersey. Do you have any experience with law enforcement?
Only that I had a very close friend of mine who was chief of Campus Police at Sac State when I was there as dean of students, for a decade. He was a narcotics detective from New Jersey. He was a transplant, who came out here and became chief of Campus Police and was just one of the all time greatest guys that I’ve ever met in my life. I heard a lot of stories from him, and in fact brought him down to Carmel a couple of times and we played a lot of golf together and had a lot fun and a lot of laughs. One of the characters in my book is really taken after him. Personal experience? None. I’m way too wimpy to be involved in that kind of stuff. I’m an armchair cop fan.
What crime writers have you read and enjoyed, who have influenced your work?
Well, I’ve always loved Ed McBain. He’s passed away fairly recently, but he wrote a lot of great mysteries. I really like Harlan Coben, he’s a new one. Robert Parker, who also recently passed away, did the Spenser Series and a couple other series. I’d probably say Parker is my major influence because he moves so much of his stories through dialogue. I think it brings the character to life and it kind of pulls the reader into the story. It makes them a part of the story, at least, that’s what I hope I did in my book. He’s probably my favorite and I really try to use dialogue to move everything along.
Do you plan to write more fiction? Maybe with this character?
I do, if this thing is successful. I’ve got a couple of plots in mind to write a sequel. I’m also probably two-thirds done with a series of Sherlock Holmes short stories that I’ve written and really, really enjoy. I love that character and always have, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m down here in Carmel, hustling the book as we speak.