If history is accurate, then it was Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838), the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of France, who first said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Regardless of who first uttered that sentiment, though, there’s no denying that revenge is also a dish that works really well in crime novels. Consider Michael Elias’ You Can Go Home Now (hardcover, Kindle), in which the dish is served by an angry daughter. In the following email interview, Elias discusses what inspired and influenced this sordid tale, as well as why, despite being so sordid, he doesn’t feel it’s noir.
I always like to begin with a plot overview. So, what is You Can Go Home Now about, and when and where is it set?
Nina Karim is a young, single homicide detective on the Long Island City Police Dept. She became a cop to better find her father’s killer. He was a doctor for Planned Parenthood and assassinated by an anti-abortion zealot. When she finds him, she intends to kill him. Simple as that.
In the meantime, she is investigating a series of cold case murders of men who widows all have the same alibi: they were in a womens’ shelter when their husbands / partners were murdered. She goes into the shelter, posing as an abused spouse. The two stories coalesce — her search for her father’s killer and solving the mystery of the abusive men.
Where did you get the idea for You Can Go Home Now and how did the story change as you wrote it?
Not sure about the idea, but I’ve always been interested in the notion of revenge — why it is so popular and accepted in our culture and reviled in our notion of a good society. At some point I started reading more and more about femicide, violence against women, and decided to see if I could put those two realities into a novel.
As for change along the way, I didn’t have an ending until I “needed” one. And the introduction of the “miracle baby” character came very late in the writing.
You Can Go Home Now sounds like a noir crime story. Is that how you see it?
I don’t think of it as noir because it’s not set in L.A. and Nina doesn’t drink very much. Somewhere along the way I started calling it a thriller, then a literary thriller, and sometimes just a novel that one might find thrilling and literary. I also tried to inject humor, have my characters tell stories, and keep it moving.
You Can Go Home Now is your second novel after The Last Conquistador, though you’ve also written movies and TV shows — including Head Of The Class, which you co-created, and The Jerk, which you co-wrote with Steve Martin and Carl Gotlieb — as well as plays. Why did you decide to tell this story as a novel as opposed to a movie, play, or TV show?
Well, first of all, I really enjoyed writing my first novel, and by then I think I was in a friendly and mutual divorce from television, so it couldn’t be that. Screenplays are fun but getting a movie made seems impossible now. And I wanted to tell Nina’s story in her first-person voice. Had to be a novel.
Speaking of all your writing, are there any writers who you see as having a big influence on You Can Go Home Now but not on The Last Conquistador or anything else you’ve written?
Wow. Let me think. Can I reverse the question?
For The Last Conquistador and “lost cities” I credit Homer’s Iliad,’ H. Rider Haggart’s King Solomon’s Mines, Robert Silverberg’s The Man In The Maze, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan’s New York Adventure, watching Martin and Osa Johnson docs, and reading Richard Haliburton. I think I was the other big influence; I did a trek in Peru that made me want to figure out where I’d been when I got home. I started reading about the Inca, the Spanish Conquistadors, child sacrifice and how the hell were they able to fit those giant stones together so perfectly.
There has always been a “lost Inca city,” usually known as Vilcabamba. Every time archaeologists discover ruins, from Hiram Bingham’s Machu Picchu on, they think they’ve found it. So, I thought, I’ll find one, too. But what if my “lost city” is alive? The rest was easy. Ha!
Now, none of the above had anything to do with You Can Go Home Now, a novel of revenge and redemption. My influences were Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel of the same name, Maurizio De Giovanni’s The Crocodile, and the countless movies and TV shows I saw growing up where the good guy kills the bad guy.
What about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on You Can Go Home Now? Aside from what you’ve already mentioned, of couse.
I wrote the novel while my wife and I were living in Paris — she had a job running a cultural institution and I had the dining room table — so I didn’t see a lot of American TV or film. Even though I wrote a woman hero, I tried to use as much of my life as I could. Nina and I came from the same small town in upstate New York, our fathers were doctors, mothers a librarian, I remembered a Queens girlfriend and her geography, my time spent in New York City, and I pumped my son for information about video games, graphic novels, and music that Nina’s brother played, read, and listened to.
As you know, crime novels are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes part of larger series. What is You Can Go Home Now?
I think until someone at HarperCollins says, “Do you have another one?” it’s a stand-alone. I will confess to having an idea of how to do another chapter in the life of Nina but…
Earlier I asked if You Can Go Home Now had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting You Can Go Home Now into a movie, show, or game?
Oh, I sure want it to be a movie. There are, as we speak, people reading it with that in mind. I wish they would hurry up. There are so many women who could play Nina and so many brilliant women directors to direct it. I hope to have good news soon.
If it did happen, would you want to write the script or would you want someone else to do it?
I would have liked to write the screenplay for The Last Conquistador but somehow not for You Can Go Home Now. I think it would be best left in the hands of a woman.
Finally, if someone enjoys You Can Go Home Now, what crime novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Again, I would recommend Maurizio de Giovanni’s The Crocodile for a dark and gripping tale of revenge. It’s Naples noir. Then anything by Dona Leon, Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano (a cop who has to walk the fine line between the law and the Mafia), and the Irish writer Philip Davison who wrote The Crooked Man.