Saturday, February 20, 2010

Catching Up With David Corbett

Reading the newsletter from Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, I was surprised by how many of my favorite authors have new books this year. One who caught my eye was David Corbett, who will be at MLB’s Spring Coffee & Crime breakfast April 10. His new book, due March 2, is DO THEY KNOW I’M RUNNING? (Ballantine paperback original)

MLB’S review calls it “a powerful crime novel that will take you into the heart of the Salvadoran immigrant community in California.” I read an excerpt from the first chapter at Corbett’s web site and it’s a grabber. I spent a couple of hours at the web site, bringing myself up to date on one of the busiest authors in the field, wondering how I’d lost track of him in the first place.

A few years ago, when I was writing my first mystery, a stellar parade of writers came through Fresno, California, either for a meeting of the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime or for the annual William Saroyan Writers Conference. David Corbett was one of them.

Joyce Spitzer had just written her first novel. Authors, some with established careers, included Penny Warner, Richard Barre, Loren Estleman and his wife Deborah Morgan, Harlan Ellison, John Dunning, Marcia Preston, David Brin, Leonard Bishop, James Frey – no, not THAT James Frey, the James Frey who wrote HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL -- and David Corbett, who had just written his first novel, THE DEVIL’S REDHEAD (Ballantine Books 2002).

I learned from all of them, but the writer who gave me a whole different outlook on mystery novels was David Corbett. Corbett had spent 15 years with a San Francisco private investigation firm. He’d worked on high-profile criminal and civil litigations such as the Lincoln Savings & Loan Case, The DeLorean Trial, The People's Temple Trial, the first Michael Jackson child molestation case, and a RICO civil litigation brought by the Teamsters against former union leaders associated with organized crime—as well as numerous other drug, murder, and fraud cases.”

In 1995 he left the firm to work as "Man Friday" for his wife, Terri, who was beginning a law practice. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September 2000, and died at age 46 in January 2001. Ballantine had just bought THE DEVIL’S REDHEAD.

I was collecting cozies and soft-boiled mysteries. After I found out Corbett was coming to Fresno I bought a copy of THE DEVIL’S REDHEAD and settled down to read it. The opening sentence almost knocked me off my chair:

"He blew into Las Vegas the first week of spring, primed to hit the tables, sniff the wildlife and, basically, cat around."

I didn’t stop reading until the very last page. REDHEAD was not only a good crime story; it was an emotional roller coaster.

Since then Corbett has written novels and short stories. He teaches writing at seminars and hosts a monthly High Crimes Mystery Book Group in Benicia, California. He’ll be on the road in March and April, traveling coast to coast. This is no blog tour from the comfort of an easy chair. He’s doing signings, readings, Q&A, and classes on “Arcs & Acts in Fiction & Film.”

His complete schedule, along with a lot of other interesting reading, can be found on his web site at

Believe it or not, my review for THE DEVIL’S REDHEAD, posted to Oct. 12, 2003, is still there. Here it is.

A violent tale, beautifully told
By Pat Browning

THE DEVIL'S REDHEAD is a violent tale, beautifully told. The writing flows. The pace never falters. At its tender heart, this is a story of love, loss and reconciliation.

Opening line: "He blew into Las Vegas the first week of spring, primed to hit the tables, sniff the wildlife and, basically, cat around."

That's Danny Abatangelo, freelance photographer and wildcat smuggler of Thai marijuana since college days. His motto: "No guns, no gangsters, it's only money." Then he meets Shel, a knockout redhead, and they slam together like a couple of magnets.

Danny wants out of the drug trade. Everybody's moving in -- Cubans, Marielitos, Vietnamese, Colombians, Mexicans, the Mob. No more room for someone like Danny, who's in it for kicks. End of an era.

He sets up one last job as a nest egg for retirement. What follows is a harrowing sequence of events, resulting in near-total destruction of everything Danny and Shel hoped for.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Until Corbett came along, the only crime writer who could guide me through such violent material without setting me up for nightmares was James Lee Burke. Good company, those two!

The photo by Pat Mazzera is from Corbett’s web site.


David said...

Dear Pat:

I'm touched and flattered by so many kind words. Thank you so much. I'm so fortunate -- and grateful -- that my writing has found such a welcoming reader. Best of luck with your own work, keep the faith, and hopefully I'll see you somewhere as I wander the next two months (Left Coast Crime perhaps?).

All the very best,

Anonymous said...

Good luck on your tour!
Pat B.