Low-graphic news index |
Tuesday, July 3, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Lit Life: Author Mike Lawson on his latest Joe DeMarco thriller
By Mary Ann Gwinn
Seattle Times book editor
Lit life |
By now, Mike Lawson has gotten to know Joe DeMarco very well. They've lived and worked and schemed together for years. Lawson, a former nuclear engineer and government civil servant, would never condone the things DeMarco has done in his job as an off-the-books investigator for the Speaker of the U.S. House. But DeMarco is unpredictable and brave, cynical and funny. It's fascinating to speculate — who knows what he might get up to next?
OK, I confess. Lawson is a Seattle-area author, and he made up Joe DeMarco. He's the protagonist for Lawson's Joe DeMarco thrillers; the seventh, "House Blood," is just out from Atlantic Monthly Press ($25).
They make for an odd couple: Lawson rose in the government ranks to become the top civilian responsible for Navy reactor-plant work on the West Coast. DeMarco is so obscure, he doesn't even have a title, the better for Speaker of the House John Fitzpatrick Mahoney to keep him out of the Congressional Directory.
"House Blood" was my first DeMarco thriller. I was entertained, intrigued and laughed a lot. So I asked Lawson what got him into such a right-brain activity (writing) after years of making things run as an engineer and bureaucrat; how true to life DeMarco is, and why the pharmaceutical industry, the villain in "House Blood," makes for such a great bad guy.
Q: How did you get into writing, a creative-language activity, after years of work as an engineer and government servant?
A: I was never really that much of an engineer. A lot of engineers are very much into the nuts and bolts, I was more into management. There's a lot of problem-solving. The books are a little like engineering — the bad guy's going to do A., so what is the protagonist going to do?
Q: Is there really a job like the one DeMarco has? He's a "House investigator," but he doesn't really have a title.
A: DeMarco is kind of like Gordon Liddy (one of the Watergate "plumbers") or Charles Colson. Colson had a civil-service position in the (Nixon) White House, but they used him off the books. Most congressional staff is composed of young people, they're doing the day-to-day. I wanted DeMarco to be available for the kind of jobs Mahoney has in mind.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between DeMarco and Emma, the highly placed intelligence agent who helps him with his cases?
A: Emma works for the Defense Intelligence Agency. She met DeMarco by accident; he stumbled into a situation where he saved her life. When I first wrote these books, she was a device, because DeMarco didn't have contacts in these bigger (intelligence) organizations. Now, she's sort of an intolerant big sister. There's no love relationship — she's older than him, and she's gay.
None of the characters in the book are upright, except for Emma. Mahoney is corrupt, DeMarco crosses back and forth over the line. She doesn't. She has the truest moral compass. She is the one who will slap DeMarco back in line when he's crossing it.
Q. In "House Blood," the chief villain is the head of a rogue pharmaceutical company. What is it in the zeitgeist that makes the pharmaceutical industry a good villain?
A. They're making a lot of money, and at the same time, they're charging an enormous amount of money. And there are other drugs they don't develop because there's not enough money to be made.
Q. In your research, did you ever come across an actual case where a drug company used a relief agency as a "screen" to test drugs overseas? That's a diabolical idea and a key plot point in "House Blood."
A. I just made that up. You can see the conditions that nonprofits operate in places like Uganda. Then I learned it was common to have drug testing done in those countries. It seemed perfect somehow. The main thing was, when I found out that there was all this testing going on, I wanted to drive it down one layer, where it wouldn't be legal.
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW's "Well Read," discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to www.tvw.org/shows/well-read for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
Low-graphic news index
Graphic-enabled home page