Thomas Pluck talks about Bad Boy Boogie

Some of my favorite crime series are duos: Hap and Leonard. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell. Easy Rawlins and Mouse. Spenser and Hawk. They go together like coffee and begneits, or a burger and fries. When you read enough of these (not that I can ever get enough) you start noticing that one partner is often on the side of order and goodness and the law, while the other appeals to our baser natures: revenge, street justice, and violent retribution. They are the angel and the devil on the shoulders of the story, or rather, the two hands tattooed with “Love” and “Hate” wrestling with each other, like Robert Mitchum’s evil preacher in that classic, The Night of the Hunter. It makes for good fiction, because that battle between the civilizing order of the rule of law and the desire for blood has been with us since the beginning, and it looks like we’re no closer to resolving it.
When I wrote the first draft of what would become Bad Boy Boogie, I began with this model. But as I wrote it, I found myself drawn by the darker side. I didn’t want to write about someone whose best friend did all the dirty work and carried the burden of bodies on his shoulder. I wanted those knuckles of Love and Hate to wrestle in Jay Desmarteaux’s mind. I’m not the first to do it or the last, but I wanted to show the consequences of revenge, and explore whether you could avenge evil without becoming evil yourself. The Sicilians know what they’re talking about when they say, “when you set out to commit vengeance, dig two graves.”
One for your target, and one for yourself.
Because even the nastiest SOB will have someone who wants to avenge them, even if it’s just for show. Look at Sam Spade. He didn’t even like Archer. He just knew he was supposed to get whoever did him in. Her pretty little neck would’ve been fine if Spade didn’t care about appearances.
And Jay Desmarteaux couldn’t care less about what people think. He never thought he’d walk free again. After killing a brutal rapist and bully who was the son of town mayor, even those who agree with what he did are too afraid to say it publicly. He and his parents came to the town as outsiders, and as he searches for them, and the reasons his friends testified against him after he saved them from living hell, he journeys from outsider to outcast to outlaw. But he is not without the skills to survive on the inside or the out.
In researching the novel, I followed the advice of crime writer Les Edgerton—who has seen the inside of a penitentiary himself—and subscribed to the Angolite, the newspaper of the Louisiana State Prison, better known as Angola. They have been writing and editing it for over fifty years, and it is a unique look into prison life. Louisiana has the greatest percentage of lifers in any prison in America, and they keep the peace by offering training programs. One lifer has more certifications in engine repair than anyone in the country, and he teaches his skills inmates who unlike him, will see the light of day outside prison bars. His name is John Sheehan, and he was a great inspiration for Jay. Because how does a sixteen year old boy, charged as an adult and given life without parole—keep his mind right?
By learning everything he can.
Jay was imprisoned in East Jersey State prison, known as Rahway. Not as big or as famous as Angola, but they also teach inmates auto repair and furniture building. When Jay unexpectedly walks free after twenty-five years, he wants to use what he learned in the auto shop and build himself a life. But it’s what he learned in the boxing ring, and the institutional knowledge of a thousand old convicts that keeps him alive.
And when he decides that some people need killing, the burden is all on him.