I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Cohn the author of The Last Detective an interesting take on the classic police procedural. Here is the back of the book:
Two years since the slicks came to our planet and herded humanity together like cattle, placing us under constant watch in the few cities that remain. The lucky ones are left to their own devices. The unlucky few are rounded up and carted off to labor camps to face an unknown fate.Former homicide detective Adrian Grace was cut off from his family, but has somehow managed to survive.
When one of the slicks is murdered, they ask him to find the killer. He reluctantly agrees, and in the course of his investigation witnesses the best, and the worst, that humanity has to offer: a plot to escape the labor camps; a pending war between an in-your-face councilwoman and the corrupt city mayor; and a priest who claims to have befriended the dead alien. But worst of all, he stumbles onto a conspiracy that puts the fate of the entire city in jeopardy.
In the end, Detective Grace discovers that the killer might just be the last person he would have suspected.A story about betrayal, redemption, faith, fear, and hope, The Last Detective is a thrilling look at what happens to humanity when our world crumbles around us.
Enjoy the interview!
FS – I love The Last Detective and your main character Adrian Grace. He is the classic wiseguy detective reluctantly pulled into one last case. The mood of your book reminds me of Raymond Chandler. Was he one of your influences?
BC – First of all, thank you. Grace evolved a lot over the course of writing and editing The Last Detective, and I’m pretty proud of the end product, As far as influences go, Raymond Chandler definitely had a lot to do with my writing style in this book. The old-school noir writers like Chandler and Hammett had a way with words that you just don’t see much in modern novels, a certain wit that’s hard to ignore. I even have a favorite Chandler line: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” Priceless. I wanted to bring that gritty and humorous style of detective writing to a science fiction novel and really blend the two genres together.
FS –I think any good sci-fi story requires a good nickname for the enemy like “Toasters” in BSG. The Last Detective has “Slicks” which is a great one. Where did you come up with it?
BC – I couldn’t agree more. I realized early on that a good epithet was going to be key, like the Bugs in Starship Troopers. I really mulled this over a lot, and knew I needed something short and abrupt, the kind of name that would really grab the reader’s attention. The word ‘slick’ popped into my mind one day and I thought, “But why would they be called that?” I immediately had this image of skin with a shimmering, oily appearance. I decided then and there that I had my nickname.
FS –There were definite parallels between the occupation of the aliens in The Last Detective and German concentration camps in WWII. I thought it was an interesting and powerful angle on an alien invasion. What was the inspiration for that?
BC – I knew I wanted The Last Detective to be more than just another science fiction novel. I think the best sci-fi books out there are those that examine the human experience from a new perspective. Whether that perspective is an alternate history, a dystopian government, or some alien contact, the sci-fi element is often used as a backdrop to explore some aspect of humanity in more detail, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Growing up Jewish, I learned quite a bit about the holocaust, and realized early on in my writing that there was a strong connection between the situation I had placed humanity in, and the plight of Jews and other minorities under Nazi rule. I had basically erected a Jewish ghetto and placed humanity inside of it, so I decided to run with that and see what happened. I even went so far as to name the newly formed police the Human Order Authority after the Ordnungsdienst, the official name of the Jewish ghetto police, which is German for ‘order authority.’
FS –Beliefs and religion play a big part in your book. Adrian Grace doesn’t believe in God but he definitely has a code. If you had to pick one thing he believes in what would it be?
BC – I’m not good at following directions, so I’m going to give you the two things that Grace believes in: murder and family. On the one hand, he’s seen the worst humanity has to offer. It was his job, and investigating it became an addiction for him. I think he really found the concept of murder to be fascinating, taking a nearly technical approach to it. On the other hand, his family meant more to him than anything in the world. To him, his wife and children represented everything that was good in this world. Murder and family were his Yin and Yang, the two inseparable halves of his life. When the aliens came, he lost both of these and ended up a shattered man.
FS –Why do you write?
BC – I honestly started writing The Last Detective because I had an idea for a story and wanted to see how it ended. I’d wanted to write something for a long time, and I’d even tried to start a couple of books in the past, but I always seemed to lose interest. This time I had something I really wanted to see through, if only because I was so into the story itself. By the time I figured the ending out, even though I was less than halfway through the first draft, I was so invested that I couldn’t bear the thought of stopping. I’ve kept writing because I keep having ideas for stories that I can’t get out of my mind. Putting them down on paper is like putting out a fire burning inside me.
FS –What are you writing now?
BC – I’ve veered away from sci-fi since writing The Last Detective. My second novel, which is already under contract with Pandamoon Publishing, is another murder mystery. This time, the twist is that the guy investigating the murder has schizophrenia, which means he has to try and sort out what’s real and what’s a part of his psychosis. More recently, I’ve been working on another mystery/thriller. This one is about a mysterious woman who moves in next door to an aging, retired homicide detective with her fifteen-year-old son. What makes this one so interesting to me is their back stories, which play out in two separate narratives. The woman was abducted by a cult when she was fifteen while the old man recounts the tale of his last case on the force, a case in which something clearly went wrong. In the modern narrative, they start to grow close (in a completely platonic way), though it’s pretty obvious that everything is headed for disaster. I got about 100,000 words into a first draft when I had to put it on hold to start editing The Last Detective, but I’m hoping to get back into it soon. I’ll hopefully have a completed first draft in a few months. I’m really excited about this one.
FS –Is there something you haven’t written yet and are waiting to write?
BC – I had an idea for a book that I started to write about a year ago, but sort of lost the thread of. I’m hoping to get back to it eventually, as I really love the premise. It’s about a guy who comes across an old disposable camera when he’s cleaning out his car before selling it. He doesn’t know where the camera came from, and when he gets it developed, he ends up with all of these pictures of himself hanging out with people he doesn’t remember. Then these people start popping up unexpectedly in his life, acting as if they were old friends from way back. This is one I definitely want to come back to. It’s already a got a title and everything: Disposable.
FS –You’re a self-professed nerd. What is the nerdiest thing you do?
BC – I don’t really do many nerdy things these days. At least not like when I was younger and played Dungeons and Dragons and read tons of fantasy books. Part of the problem, I think, is that being nerdy has become mainstream. I took my 5-year-old son to the park one day to play Pokemon Go (which he’s obsessed with), and the park was filled with people doing the exact same thing. I doubt that would have happened when I was a kid.
FS –Do you think there is sentient life out in the universe? Aliens?
BC – Absolutely. The universe is so vast—filled with such an enormous number of stars and planets—that there simply has to be life out there somewhere. Whether we’ll ever make contact with alien life is another matter. I’m certainly not holding my breath.
Thank you, Brian!
Buy The Last Detective now!
Here is my review of The Last Detective:
Brian Cohn blends the classic detective story with an alien invasion into a thoughtful and incredibly entertaining read. The Last Detective, Detective Grace is tasked with finding the killer of one of the new alien overlords called “slicks”. The novel is full of rich detail on the day to day lives of the survivors who struggle to make it on their weekly rations and constant threat of being sent to work camps from which no one has returned. Cohn brings the goods on this twist on a classic detective procedural. If you like aliens and detectives this is the book for you.
Brian Cohn is an ER doctor practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives with his beautiful wife and their two rambunctious children. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama where he grew up loving to read. His passion for books continued through his college career at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and traveled with him back to Alabama where he attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He moved to St. Louis for residency training, met his wife, and fell in love with both her and the city itself. He has been practicing emergency medicine for over a decade and loves helping people every day, but turned to writing as a creative outlet.
A self-professed nerd, Brian has long enjoyed everything science fiction, from books to TV and movies. He is also a huge fan of great mysteries and thrillers, and is a sucker for a surprising plot twist. He writes the kind of books that he would want to read, reflecting a deep-seated curiosity about what motivates people to do the things they do.
When he’s not busy writing and taking care of patients, Brian loves to run, play with his children, and spend quiet time watching TV with his wife. If he can only figure out how to do all three things at once, he’ll finally have it made.
@BrianCohnMD on Twitter