Good Cop / Bad Cop – Believable Good Guys with Barbara Silkstone

If it’s Sunday, I’m not here. I’m over at WG2E, with a post called Indie Inbreeding and the Gene Pool of Diminishing Readers.

Standing in for me here at MWi is the only and only Barbara Silkstone, who mixes with the best. When not sharing a changing room with Elizabeth Taylor (haven’t we all?) or mixing it with Stephen King (see Barbara’s delightful blog, Barb’s Wire) she moves in equally illustrious circles meeting up with successful indie and Kindle authors on our behalf.

Last time Barbara was here you was looking at the plight of trans-Atlantic sales. This time she addresses the thorny issue of  the bad guys. No, not agents and publishers. The other villains – the ones in our books.

Here’s Barbara.

Jake Lassiter is back. Twenty years after the publication of To Speak for the Dead, the Lassiter novels have become the number one hardboiled crime fiction series on Kindle. In the past year, Night Vision, To Speak for the Dead, and Mortal Sin have been the number one bestselling hardboiled mysteries on Amazon Kindle, while the other Levine titles – Riptide, False Dawn, Fool Me Twice and Flesh and Bones have all hit the Top Ten.

Paul Levine is a former trial lawyer and the award-winning author of legal thrillers including Solomon vs. Lord (nominated for the Macavity Award and the James Thurber Prize,) The Deep Blue Alibi (nominated for the Edgar Award), and Kill All the Lawyers (a finalist for the International Thrill Writers Award.) He won the John D. MacDonald Award for his critically acclaimed Jake Lassiter novels, which are now available as ebooks. He’s also written more than twenty episodes for the CBS military drama JAG. Paul Levine lives in Lost Angeles, where he is working on his next Jake Lassiter thriller.

I caught up with Paul on the eve of the release of LASSITER… Bantam; Hardcover. Jake Lassiter is a courtroom hero unlike any other. We last saw him in 1997’s Flesh & Bones. He just made his triumphant return as the former Miami Dolphin linebacker-turned-lawyer on September 13, 2011 in Lassiter.  Curious as to what makes a believable good-guy I threw some questions at Levine and he threw ‘em back with answers.

BS:  How do you go about creating such realistic, gritty, but likeable heroes?
PL:  I believe, as John D. MacDonald said, there are no 100 per cent heroes. I’ve always been drawn to flawed protagonists, and conversely, villains are not all evil. Villains love their dogs, their children, their favorite baseball teams. I just try to make my heroes real…and fun. I have a somewhat sardonic view of the world, so it’s only natural that Jake Lassiter does, too. Same for Steve Solomon in the “Solomon vs. Lord” books.

BS:  What are some of the flubs you’ve read in other thrillers that jumped out at you?
PL:  Technical problems crop up once in a while. Putting a safety on a Glock 9 mm handgun. Wait!  I’ve done that! And I own a Glock, so the lesson here is that it’s really easy to mess up. I’ve seen mistakes in autopsies and many many mistakes in trial procedure.

BS:  What are some of your pet peeves – flawed details that would never work in real life?  Perhaps unrealistic representations of legal procedures?  (Names withheld to protect the authors)  🙂
PL:  I remember a novel written by a lawyer where the defense put on its case BEFORE the prosecution.  Often you hear this juicy one: “Objection, Counsel is badgering the witness!” Well, there’s no such objection in the law. (There is an objection on the grounds that the question is argumentative).  I have some fun with the bogus “badgering” objection in my new novel, “Lassiter.” When a prosecutor objects to Jake Lassiter’s tough questioning of a cop on the “badgering” ground, Lassiter says, “It’s my job to badger the witness. That’s what they pay me for.”

BS:  Jake Lassiter is irreverent and funny. How do you balance the humor with the drama?
PL:  “Balance” is the word. It’s a balancing act. Too much humor or over-the-top humor sucks the dramatic tension right out of a story. I just keep telling myself, “Keep it real.”

BS:  Lassiter delivers savvy, spot-on lines. Do they just come to you as you’re writing or did you keep a little black book when you were practicing law?
PL:   Memories come back to me. And imaginary lines just keep popping into my head.

BS:  LASSITER… The new Jake Lassiter book has just been published. It’s been fourteen years since FLESH & BONES. Is this a one-time shot or are you going to reignite the series?
PL:   I’m working on the next “Lassiter” right now.

BS:  I particularly loved SOLOMON AND LORD. You give great dialogue. Three marriages have given you a wicked sense of humor. *smile*  Who came up with that terrific cover design?
PL:  Ouch!  You had to bring up the marriages? Including one at age 21? That one shouldn’t even count!  The cover (a distraught Lady Justice about to shoot herself) really does capture the tone. It was the artist, not me. I do listen to women carefully, and that helps write the banter.

BS:  We recently had an enthusiastic discussion on Genre-Shifting on the Mark Williams international blog. You’ve done a bit of a shift with BALLISTIC going from legal thrillers to military action/adventure. You wrote for the hit television series JAG. I think readers will wonder how you accomplish such a great job of keeping the humanity in your characters when you step onto a larger canvas like military action/adventure?
PL:  Writing is writing! It doesn’t matter what the backdrop is. Make your characters and situations real, plan a logical plot, and you’re halfway home.

BS:  Paul, thank you for spending time chatting with me. We all really appreciate it! Good luck to Jake!


I devoured Lassiter last night. What a read! I can see why Lisa Scottoline said Jake Lassiter was one of her favorite characters of all time. I’d like to quote David Morrell as we step back and wish Lassiter a rocket to number one. “Paul Levine’s twisty, wonderful novel combines the legal excellence of a Grisham thriller with the highwire antics of Carol Hiaasen. A cover-to-cover triumph!”

Since I also enjoy a good action thriller I picked up Ballistic for this weekend’s read. I can’t imagine leaving the Miami-mob setting for an Air Force base in Wyoming under terrorist attack. I’ll keep you posted.

By the way… for those readers who enjoy a good Tom Clancy thriller… but better, I suggest you take a gander at indie author MH Sargent’s novels… Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot to Day For, Operation Spider Web, Yemen Connection… and more. For fun… I thought I’d throw some of the same questions at MH:

BS:  How do you go about creating such realistic, gritty, but likeable heroes?
MH:  Oh, boy. I could just picture my characters saying they’re not heroes. I think they would cringe if they heard that question being asked. But since they aren’t around, I’ll take a stab at answering that by saying that my characters are like any of us – they aren’t perfect. They have flaws, they make mistakes. I think that helps make them real to readers.

BS:   What are some of your pet peeves?
MH:  I would say when the story suddenly has a small hole that defies logic. I come from a screen writing background and years ago a writer friend wrote a wonderful TV movie. But when it aired, there was a story gap – it didn’t make sense how the main character suddenly figured out a crucial plot point. Well, it was in the script. It was filmed. But the network decided to trim 120 seconds to give themselves two more minutes of ad time. Her crucial plot point was left on the cutting room floor.
Now, that was not the screenwriter’s fault, obviously. But every once in a while, I’ll come across something like that in a novel, not a gaping hole, but something where a couple of lines would clarify the storyline for the reader. I think that this is really where a good editor comes in. Sometimes the writer has the story very clear in their head, but getting it down on paper, they might skip something, and never realize there is that tiny hole. But an editor will catch that.

BS: Your novels always feature some locals – in Iraq, or Afghanistan or even Yemen. Why did you do this?
MH: When the U.S. went to war in Iraq, I kept thinking, what are the people in Iraq thinking? What are their lives like? How have their lives changed? And I concluded that people the world over are much the same – we want the best for our family, our friends, our community and then our country. In that order. And that’s what I tried to show in Seven Days From Sunday.

BS:  Believable good guys?
MH:  In some cases, I think so. I’d like to add that it’s an honor to ride Paul Levine’s coattails in this interview and I would be happy to ride his coattails anytime. He’s just so, so entertaining. I love his work – he writes great page turners, knows the courtroom and mixes it all with a wonderful sense of humor. A great combination. Thanks for the opportunity!

Thanks to Paul Levine, MH Sargent, and Mark Williams!

But thanks most of all to Barbara Silkstone for making it all happen.

Barbara of course is author of the wonderful Wendy and the Lost Boys, which I was particularly enamored by as I read it on my Kindle while stranded on a ferry in barracuda infested waters (Regulars will know this is a common occurence here in West Africa – being stranded, that is, not reading Wendy!).

Barbara’s other books are The Secret Diary of Alice In Wonderland Aged 42 and Three Quarters and The Adventures of a Love Investigator, 527 Naked men and One Woman.

In Barbara’s books she plays for laughs, so the bad guys are flawed in the most delightful ways.  Take poor Hook in Wendy and the Lost Boys, for instance. He has a rather embarassing problem with…

Well, you’ll have to read it yourself. I have to consider the sensibilities of my young co-authors.

But writing good bad guys is an art. Without the villains, there’s no story, but for villains to be believable they have to have redeeming traits, or they end up little more than Freddy Kruger clones. What say you?

* * *

Wonderful as Elizabeth Taylor was, for me it was her child hood roles in Jane Eyre and National Velvet that are my fondest memories.  Elizabeth Taylor was one of the finest child actors of her generation. National Velvet is one of my favorite movies. And as someone that can’t stand horses that’s quite an achievement!

I leave you with this image of Elizabeth from National Velvet., the only horse film I’ve ever managed to sit through that didn’t have Clint in!


  1. Awesome interview! And yay for flawed heroes! 😀

  2. Thanks Mark…Great to be here! Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

    For those who’d like to buy a copy of LASSITER here’s the link to Amazon Kindle US:

    I’m shall toddle off and find the UK link. Isn’t it sweet how besotted Mark is with Elizabeth Taylor?

  3. Wonderful interview. I love legal thrillers and flawed heroes. I can’t go wrong with these books!

  4. Thank you for the great interview, Barbara – I just added another couple books to my tbr list!

    • Leslie M
    • October 2nd, 2011

    Both authors share pet peeves with me…holes and inconsistencies. I’m a stickler for detail and I love authors who do their very best to keep it real. M. H. Sargent proves he does that with his comment, “people the world over are much the same – we want the best for our family, our friends, our community and then our country.” Just because a story takes place in Iraq or Afghanistan, it doesn’t mean that every resident of that country is our enemy. That’s keeping it real!
    Great interview with both authors!

  5. Great interview! Creating bad guys has always been a difficult one for me, I think because I always want everyone to be nice. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting story, does it?! So with every draft of each book I write, I try to make the bad guy worse and worse until I finally achieve a true antagonist.

    Thanks for letting us listen in on this conversation!

    Georgina Young-Ellis

  6. Leslie,
    Thank you for your comments. Points well taken. I recently finished an amazing thriller that takes place in the USA. The protagonist is so real, so intense, the book blew me away. He’s a second generation Egyptian Muslim detective working for the local police in Indiana. His family life figures strongly in the plot. I love that we can have heroes from all nationalities and not have to think twice about it. The book is an indie and a major best seller. I hope we see more from the same author. The book is The Abbey by Chris Culver.

    PS… as you can guess, I’m a big fan of Levine and Sargent.

  7. Georgina,
    Thank you. It’s probably the hardest thing to do especially for nice authors.- writing a bad guy. Does a bad guy understand he’s being bad? Or is he clueless? Or is he so focused on being a beast he’s lost his sense of good and evil?

    I think that’s why I prefer to write comedy. At least my bad guys can do silly things like poking themselves in the eye while shooting a gun or falling down while in a fit of rage.

    Truth is… I love reading about bad guys. They are delicious especially right before bed. 🙂

  8. I love writing “bad guys” who don’t know they’re bad. They do the wrong thing because they’re weak or childish or needy. And that makes the plot careen from comedy to tragedy–like real life.

    I’ve always seen Elizabeth Taylor as a tragic character. Most child stars are. They’re like human sacrifices–we garland them with adoration and praise and then throw them into the volcano when they’re no longer adorable. It takes incredible stamina to ride that fame into adulthood, but it also takes a terrible toll.

  9. Great interview Barbara! Nothing like a few flaws to spice it up! I’ve just added these to my every-growingTBR list! 🙂

    I love the bad guys! And like you Barbara as I write comedy mysteries, mine tend to be a stupidly bad!

  10. Anne,
    Aren’t they the best… the bad guys who don’t know they’re bad? Although I prefer if the story stays a comedy and never slides into a tragedy. Most of my bad guys end up like my Wendy’s ex husband….dangling from a string off the side of a yacht. If we can laugh at our pretend bad guys then we learn to laugh at what life throws at us.

  11. Sibel, I agree. I think we have the same taste in bad guys. They should all be someone Inspector Clouseau can dispatch… bing, bang, Bump!

    • gerrymccullough
    • October 3rd, 2011

    Hey, I like the heroes better – the flawed Philip Marlowe character who has been taken up and re-created again and again by so many writers, such as Robert B. Parker.
    About Elizabeth Taylor, I first saw her in one of her first grown up roles, in The Last Time I Saw Paris, when I was very young, and I thought she was not only incredibly beautiful, but also so very sad. I’ll always think of her like that.
    (When I was in my early teens, and she was at the height of her popularity, a young window cleaner called out to me, as I was coming up the street on my way home from school, ‘I thought it was Elizabeth Taylor I saw coming!’ One of my happiest memories!)

    • Miriam Joy
    • October 9th, 2011

    Lovely interviews 🙂 And you ‘consider’ us when writing posts … hmm. How irritating. 😉

    Weirdly my computer has stopped email-subscribing me to anything and it’s pretty difficult resubscribing, so I’ve probably missed a few posts, haven’t I?

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