By calling his horror noir detective novel The Long Shalom (paperback, Kindle), writer Zachary Rosenberg knew some people might wonder if it was a parody. But as he explains in the following email interview about this otherwise serious story, while it does have some humor, it’s more the gallows kind than anything Mel Brooks-esque.
To start, what is The Long Shalom about, and when and where does it take place?
Our story opens in the Roaring ’20s, with Prohibition in full swing. Alan Aldenberg is a Jewish war hero, former convict, and mobster, and now a hard-boiled down on his luck detective. When his fortunes have taken a turn for the worst, an old flame knocks on his door and asks him to find her missing brother and other innocent people. He soon discovers dark secrets and a conspiracy reaching into the ranks of the mob, New York politics, and even worse…
Where did you get the idea for the plot of The Long Shalom?
A few spots. I’ve always loved pulp detective stories. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were big inspirations. A friend also mentioned my doing a 1920s story sometimes. When I saw Off Limits’ Pulp call, the wheels got turning. I had also recently read P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout and Laird Barron’s The Croning, which were big inspirations on the plot as well.
Now, given the name, some people might think this is a joke. Or a parody. But I don’t get that sense. It seems like this a serious noir crime story, just with a Jewish detective and Jewish criminals…
That’s correct. The story has some humor and I tried to capture the feel of pulp and noir, but it’s absolutely played seriously.
But given that, how hard was it to fight the urge to slip in some jokes or bits of comedy? Y’know, references to the Maltese Menorah, stuff like that?
I can’t say I ever had the urge to go that far. But humor — especially gallows humor — is a staple of noir and detective stories. There are definitely a fair few moments of comedy throughout the book, but I try to ensure it never overpowers the seriousness of the situation.
Also, how Jewish are Alan Aldenberg and the members of the Jewish mob? Like, are they Orthodox, are they reform, are they Jew-ish? And why was this the right amount of Jewish-ness for this story?
That is absolutely discussed and explored here. Alan himself is closer to Reform, but he’s quite lapsed when the story opens. He’d freely admit he’s not the best Jew in the world, nor the most devout. He is, however, still very Jewish. His life and morals are informed by his heritage and culture, and he does explore his faith as the story goes.
The Jewish mob, by contrast, are resentful in a sense. There is a sense of pride to their religion and culture, but they feel denied their place at the tables. And their religion certainly doesn’t halt them from the nastiest of criminal activities nor alliances with the other worst members of other mobs.
I wanted to write a Jewish character that the audience could identify with and experience a struggle through. Someone imperfect, flawed, with a dark past…but also the knowledge that those lapses or secular nature don’t make him less Jewish whatsoever.
As we’ve been discussing, The Long Shalom is a noir detective story. But I understand there’s a bit of horror in it as well. And maybe even some urban fantasy. How do you describe it, genre-wise?
I’d describe it as a blend of genres. Horror noir, with a touch of cosmic horror in there
Now, The Long Shalom is your second novella after Hungers As Old As This Land. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Long Shalom but not anything else you’ve written, and especially not Hungers?
I would definitely say so. Laird Barron, Hailey Piper, P. Djeli Clarke, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Cina Pelayo, Dennis LeHane, Gabino Iglesias…all writers of elements I incorporate into The Long Shalom. Hard-boiled noir and crime, cosmic horror, horror wedded to social commentary and history. The Long Shalom is absolutely unlike anything else I’ve written.
How about non-literary influences; do you think The Long Shalom was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Oh, definitely. TV show-wise? The first season of True Detective comes to mind. For movies…The Vigil is a huge one for Jewish horror influences to me, and also a little known gem called Cast A Deadly Spell that blends horror-comedy with noir. Games…the Call Of Cthulhu role-playing game, but also Eternal Darkness and Anchorhead, the old text game. There really are a ton that come to mind there.
Detectives in noir stories sometimes have long careers. Will that be the case for Mr. Aldenberg, or this is it, his last hurrah?
I can certainly hope I’d get to write more. I definitely have plans. The era is so rich with ideas I can plot stories around. I don’t have a set plan, but I know I have ideas for at least one or two more, with a precise plan on how I’d want to end Alan’s story. Overall, I’d most want to do a series of stand-alone but connected books here with Alan and friends.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, The Long Shalom is your second novella after Hungers As Old As This Land. We did a deep dive on Hungers when it came out, but for people who hate to click, what is that novella about, and when and where does it take place?
So, Hungers takes place about twenty years after the Civil War, in the old west, namely the territory of Montana. The premise concerns a Jewish settlement out in the frontier that’s resting upon some pretty important land that a rather unscrupulous banker wants. To that end, he hires a mercenary group to deal with the matter. Our heroines are Esther and Siobhan, two women from the settlement who get caught up in the conflict, and what the villains don’t know is the town has something of a pact with mysterious creatures in the nearby mountains called The Hungers.
It sounds like Hungers As Old As This Land is a historical horror novel…
Absolutely. Historical horror is a great descriptor. I’d pair that with Weird Western horror as well. I tried to get at the roots of horror for it. The history of the west, unsanitized: racism, sexism, classism, thigs it’s important to portray. And also there’s simply so much to explore in the west, such wide, open frontiers are perfect places for horror.
Hungers As Old As This Land and The Long Shalom obviously overlap a bit, genre-wise, but they’re also very different. How do you think working on somewhat similar but somewhat different books impacted and influenced how you wrote both of them?
I think it really helps on how to adjust the characters to different situations. It also helps me connect more to the Jewish side of the characters and how to portray that rather unapologetically through the characters. Hungers absolutely helped me flesh out the lore and themes that would be present throughout The Long Shalom, and writing about the horrors in the frontier was a good practice for the horrors in the city.
A moment ago, I asked if The Long Shalom had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think The Long Shalom would work as a movie, show, or game?
You know, I would love to see it as a movie. But I’d most love to see it as a TV series. Maybe a 6 to 8 episode True Detective-style one there. Granted, I could see it as a game in the style of L.A. Noir and Silent Hill for investigation with Max Payne style action.
And if someone wanted to adapt The Long Shalom into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Alan, Erika, and the other main characters?
I actually made a thread about this before. Logan Lerman [Percy Jackson] would be a great Alan and [The Boys‘] Karen Fukuhara would be a fantastic Erika. I’d love to see [Bridgeton’s] Rege-Jean Page as Roger McAllister, and Jamie Clayton [Hellraiser] as Lenore Zielinski. I’d love to see Bill Skarsgard [It] as the main villain Emicho Hadrian.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Long Shalom?
I’d say if you like diverse casts of people who’d be stereotypes taking back their power, and if you just like a great story of noir and horror mixing together, this is absolutely the book for you.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Long Shalom, what noir detective novel of someone else’s would you suggest they check out and why that one? Oh, and extra points if it has some horror, cosmic or otherwise.
Hailey Piper’s No Gods For Drowning is a brilliant dark fantasy noir, just a brilliant and unique book, absolutely spellbinding and beautifully written. I also have to shout out the great Laird Barron’s Isaiah Coleridge books. Laird and Hailey are inspirations to me both…they know how noir and detective stories work so well.