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Interview: December 5, 2017

Matt Coyle revived the Raymond Chandler hard-boiled PI model, set in today’s tony La Jolla suburb of San Diego. BLOOD TRUTH sees protagonist Rick Cahill confronting demons that haunted his father, who had been ousted from the La Jolla Police Department years ago and drank himself into an early grave. In this episode, readers realize that Rick is his father’s son.

Rick comes across a safe found in his father’s former home. Do the contents prove his father’s corruption, and is the horded cash blood money? Meanwhile, Rick struggles with a possible rekindled romance with Kim Connelly, now married to real estate mogul Jeff Parker, in the most complex installment of this award-winning series.

In this interview, Coyle chats with’s Dean Murphy about Rick’s relationship with his father --- and Coyle’s relationship with his own dad --- the writing life, and the next Rick Cahill mystery. Rick Cahill is one of the best contemporary underdog private investigators. What inspired a modern-day Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s iconic PI protagonist?

Matt Coyle: Thank you for the compliment. Not surprisingly, Philip Marlowe served as an early inspiration. The thing I always liked about Marlowe was that he lived by his own code, whether in keeping with the law or not. Rick is the same in that he lives by a code passed down to him by his father: Sometimes you have to do what’s right even when the law says it’s wrong. I think the more I wrote Rick in the early drafts of the first book, the more he became his own character. The more I progressed him, the more I learned about his backstory and why he became the damaged person that he still is four books later.

BRC: Chandler’s staccato writing style is evident in your novels. Which other writers inspired you?

MC: I take any comparison to Chandler as the highest compliment. Had I not read him, I don’t think I’d now be writing crime fiction. I’ve been influenced by all the great writers from my early years: Chandler, MacDonald, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Christie, Doyle. No doubt there’s a piece of them all in my writing. Hopefully, I’ve developed a distinctive voice. While writing, I often read passages out loud to hear the rhythm of the prose. I write in first person and am in Rick’s head all the time, so his voice has to be evident to me on the page.

BRC: YESTERDAY’S ECHO was the series debut, earning the Anthony Award for Best First Novel and a Macavity Award nomination. Other achievements are the Benjamin Franklin Silver and San Diego Book awards. Are there more accolades?

MC: I’ve been nominated for a few more awards. My work earned those you mentioned as well as more Anthony, Macavity, Shamus and two Lefty nominations. This year’s Macavity nomination along with Megan Abbott, Louise Penny, Laura Lippman, Noah Hawley and Mick Herron was a tremendous honor.

BRC: BLOOD TRUTH has dual plots. How did you manage writing, essentially, two novels simultaneously? Did you consider publishing each plotline separately?

MC: My books always have a major subplot to go with the main story through-line. It’s usually a personal struggle Rick has to overcome. What I normally would consider a subplot was going to be big, and I wanted to give it its due in BLOOD TRUTH. However, I still wanted there to be “the case,” a problem that Rick had to deal with on a professional level --- something to occupy much of his time and energy and keep his emotional resolution concerning his father just out of reach.

I never consider making each plotline an individual book because they have a thematic connection: family. Rick has struggled with the meaning of family and its repercussions his whole life. So it made sense to tie the two plots together when he tries to help an old girlfriend who is just starting a family while he tries to solve a mystery of his own.

BRC: Rick has long struggled to deal with his father’s apparent corruption, a “bad cop” ousted from the La Jolla police force. That stigma tainted Rick’s image at LJPD headquarters. Did you know with YESTERDAY’S ECHO how Rick would uncover the truth?

MC: You figured out me and my discombobulated process. Not only did I not know how Rick would uncover the truth about his father when I wrote YESTERDAY’S ECHO, I didn’t even know what the truth was. In fact, I didn’t know what that was until I started writing BLOOD TRUTH.

BRC: You dedicated DARK FISSURES to your late father, Charles Henry Coyle, Jr. You mentioned in a December 2016 interview that he passed away while you were writing BLOOD TRUTH. How did that loss influence Rick’s discovery of what happened to his father, Charlie Cahill?

MC: BLOOD TRUTH was always going to be a father/son story, even before I started writing it when my father was still very much alive. I’m not sure if my father’s passing influenced anything in the story, but it made the writing of it very poignant and the emotions real. Like Rick, but in a very different way, I had a complicated relationship with my father. I came to understand him better and grew closer to him later in life. He was my biggest advocate as a writer. I recall him at one of my book signings and seeing the pride in his eyes. I will forever cherish that memory.

BRC: While recognizing mistakes made with Kim Connelly, Rick doesn’t seem to realize he’s walking the same path with PI Moira McFarlane. Will he ever catch a break?

MC: Rick and Moira have a different kind of relationship than do Rick and Kim. However, it grows into one of Rick’s most important relationships. I introduced Moira in the second book, NIGHT TREMORS. Her role was secondary, at best. In DARK FISSURES, she’s only on the phone with Rick a couple of times. I needed her for an early scene in BLOOD TRUTH and thought that would be it. Moira had different thoughts. She became indispensable and the conscience of the book. I’m glad I listened to her. She’s become one of my favorite characters.

BRC: Is it difficult for Rick to ponder a possible rekindled romance with Kim knowing she’s married to Jeff Parker?

MC: At first, he thinks it’s impossible and would be unfair to Kim to pursue, for many reasons. As things progress, however, the possibility of romance becomes more real. Rick, of course, has to look inside and decide what kind of man he’d be to pursue the relationship.

BRC: What is Rick’s next adventure?

MC: Rick tries to find the person who is stalking a nighttime talk radio personality. At the same time, he’s forced to confront a problem developed in BLOOD TRUTH.

BRC: Florida Writers Association’s maxim is Writers Helping Writers. You’re involved with Mystery Writers of America, host radio talk shows, and attend conferences. In what other venues in the world of writers are you involved?

MC: I’m also involved with Sisters in Crime and a group where we critique each other’s writing. I helped edit the anthology, LAST RESORT, and had my first short story published in the anthology, COAST TO COAST: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea.

BRC: Thanks for sharing. We look forward to the next episode.

MC: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to your readers!