There are two kinds of people in the world: those who’ve broken the bag from a vacuum cleaner and gotten dirt everywhere, and those who live in fear of doing just that. But while a certain someone in Matt Goldman’s new crime novel Gone To Dust (hardcover, digital) is in the former group, they probably don’t feel so bad about it, since it may help them get away with murder.
To start, what is Gone To Dust about?
A private detective named Nils Shapiro is hired by a Minneapolis suburban police department to help solve a murder. The entire crime scene is covered in the dust and dirt of vacuum cleaner bags. The dust contaminates any and all forensic evidence left at the scene. What Nils experiences in his personal life gives him insight to the crime.
It’s about more than that, too, but I’m hesitant to offer too many clues.
It sounds, from the description, that’s it’s a hard-boiled detective novel. Is it?
Gone To Dust is hard-boiled in respect to the murder and sex. But Nils Shapiro is more optimistic than most of the hard-boiled detectives. His sensitivity and emotional intelligence have yet to succumb to cynicism.
If I had to define it, I’d say Gone To Dust is hard-boiled but with a modern hero. He’s more emotionally intelligent, a man of his time.
What writers of hard-boiled detective novels and which of their books do you consider to be the biggest influences on Gone To Dust, both in terms of what you wrote and also how you wrote it?
Raymond Chandler is, by far, the biggest influence on me. His books made me realize I can use my voice and years of comedy writing experience based on social observation to write detective fiction [Goldman has written episodes of Seinfeld and Ellen]. His style and voice are different from mine, but what he achieves with them is my goal. It’s all about voice. I especially love The Long Goodbye — who doesn’t? — and The High Window. There’s a reason Chandler is so often quoted, and it isn’t plot.
I also love Philip Marlow’s first person narration. It’s why I wrote in the first person. I also find first person narration the most fair form of story-telling in detective fiction.
I was also influenced by James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books [which starts with The Neon Rain], Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series [The Bat, etc.], Liane Moriarty [Truly Madly Guilty], John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books [The Deep Blue Good-by, etc.], and Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson books [The Ranger, etc.] for their character development, use of language, and sense of place.
Speaking of other authors, Lee Child, the writer of the Jack Reacher books, said that Gone To Dust is, “A perfect blend of light touch and dark story.” Do you think fans of Child’s Jack Reacher novels would enjoy Gone To Dust?
Reacher fans will enjoy that Nils is an anti-establishment, cut across the grain kind of detective, and that he’s intrinsically driven to right wrongs. He has no problem questioning and confronting authority and wrongdoers. He shares a disproportionate sense of justice with Reacher.
What Reacher fans might not enjoy is that Nils is not a leave-body-bags-in-his-wake kind of guy. He’s no pushover, but he’s not a head cracker.
What about people who like the Jack Reacher movies? Because I’ve never read any of the books, but I dug the first film.
I haven’t seen the Jack Reacher movies. I love Lee’s character, and Tom Cruise is a mega-talented actor. But I don’t want to see Cruise’s interpretation of a 6’5″ guy with a shaved head. I like the Jack Reacher in Child’s books and in my mind, I don’t want to tarnish that. A lot of people excuse the casting by saying, “Hey, Tom Cruise got the movies made.” I’ve written in Hollywood since I was 24 years old. I do not believe that getting a movie made is the important thing. I say do it right or don’t do it at all. But I admit I am, by far, in the minority on that one.
As you mentioned, the murdered woman at the center of Gone To Dust is found covered in the dust from dozens of empty vacuum bags. Was this novel inspired by an accident you had with a vacuum cleaner?
Well, I’m terrible at changing vacuum cleaner bags, but that wasn’t the inspiration. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but I was inspired by my dislike of the CSI series. Forensic investigation is useful, but I’m much more interested in human nature and what motivates someone to commit a crime. That’s why I came up with a crime scene where forensics is worthless.
Now, while Gone To Dust is your first novel, you’ve written tons of TV shows, including episodes of Seinfeld and Ellen, and you’re also a playwright. Why did you decide that Gone To Dust worked best as a novel as opposed to a TV series or play?
I’ve always wanted to write novels. It suits my personality more than writing TV and film. Books are also my favorite medium. I may be the most film illiterate writer in show business. I guess I was just waiting for the right idea. I loved writing the book. The second one, as well. I’m halfway through the third now; there will be at least four. I am smitten with the process.
So, has there been any interest in adapting Gone To Dust into a TV show?
Yes. I have optioned the TV rights. I’ve written the pilot script, and we’ll send it to directors soon. The plan is one season per book. It’s an unusual situation because, if it goes to series, I will Executive Produce and write most if not all of the episodes. Most authors don’t get to do that. Though Michael Connelly is heavily involved with Bosch.
And George R.R. Martin does a lot for Game Of Thrones.
I have way more experience as a TV writer and producer than novelist. Fans of the books will not be disappointed.
What about a video game? After all, you also wrote episodes of the video game show Level Up?
I would jump at the chance to adapt Gone To Dust as a video game. The video games I’m familiar with have some of the best story-telling, voice acting, music, directing — everything, really — that’s out there. I couldn’t be more excited if that happened.
Do you have anyone in mind that you’d like to see cast in the Gone To Dust TV series?
I’ll answer but with a caveat: I probably am not familiar with the actors we’ll ultimately cast. But if it were up to me based on the actors whose work I do know, I’d want Joseph Gordon Levitt [Looper], Topher Grace [That ’70s Show], or Ben Feldman [Superstore] in the role of Nils. They’re funny, have a boyish side to them, and yet something deeper runs underneath. For Ellegaard, I’d like to see Armie Hammer [The Social Network]. Tall, Nordic looking, steady.
But again, there are so many good actors, many in the UK and Australia, so who knows?
Finally, if someone enjoys Gone To Dust, what would you suggest they read next and why?
I’d suggest the writers who have inspired me: Chandler, Burke, Atkins, Moriarty, Nesbo, John D. MacDonald, possibly Robert B. Parker. My books are about character, voice, and place, and so are the books that inspire me.