Today, the spotlight is on Jochem Vandersteen, creator of the Sons of Spade review blog, founder of the Hardboiled Collective, and author of the Noah Milano and Mike Dalmas stories. His first full-length novel, a Noah Milano mystery called White Knight Syndrome, is available in print and e-books. Since then, he’s written a number of novels, novelettes, and short stories, which you can find here.
Vandersteen is an aficionado of crime fiction in general, but his first love is private detective fiction. He has a broad definition of the genre, which he divides into “official” and “unofficial” PIs. The “unofficial” PI may come disguised as a reporter, vigilante, or other lone hero, but the spirit of independence and justice make them all brothers (and sisters) under the skin. In 2007, Vandersteen created the Sons of Spade site to spotlight the fictional PI. He’s been reviewing and promoting private eye fiction ever since.
Here’s what he has to say about hardboiled detective fiction: “To me, one of the main attractions to hardboiled fiction to me is the writing style. Sure, I love the tough guys walking around and the plots involving murder, crooks and femme fatales but if there’s one genre that is generally written in a style I enjoy, it’s the hardboiled one. Hardboiled prose is sparse, direct, tough. This style was born from the working class readership of the first pulp magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective that offered these stories. Also, an important element was the fact the writers of these stories got paid by the word. If they didn’t want the content of their stories butchered by editors they had to tell those stories in as few words as possible . . . Elmore Leonard had as one of his writing rules ‘Leave out the parts people skip.’ Together with [Robert B. Parker, he is a master at this.” Read more of this interview on Murderous Musings.
Speaking of hardboiled fiction, another of Vandersteen’s brain children is the Hardboiled Collective, a group of hardboiled authors who like and respect each others’ work in the detective genre and are working to spread the word.
Vandersteen says he’s been writing all his life and writing hardboiled stories for more than a decade. His primary influences include classic writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as well as more modern authors like Harlan Coben and Robert B. Parker. He’s also a fan of alternative rock and comic books, which manifests in the number of pop culture references that find their way into his stories.
He has several series going. The Noah Milano books feature “a Los Angeles private eye/security specialist with more than a few ‘family’ problems. Because, in his case, his family is ‘the family.’ ” Yes, Noah is the estranged son of a mobster. This creates a great deal of tension and more than a few problems. In the author’s words, “Fiercely independent, and determined to sever all ties with his past, Noah has to adjust from being a spoiled mobster son to being an independent operator with little money. Fortunately he’s learned a great deal about security from his years as his dad’s personal bodyguard. Perhaps in penance, he now uses these skills to earn an honest (well, relatively) living.”
The second series features Mike Dalmas: “Husband, father, vigilante… Mike Dalmas left Special Forces to become a dedicated family man, but when his daughter gets molested he had his revenge, killing the pervert who committed the crime. Now the Bay City cops keep him out of jail if he takes care of their dirty work. The things their badges won’t allow them to do but for which Dalmas has the right skill set.”
Milano and Dalmas are both intriguing, complex characters. The stories are dark and sometimes brutal, but always with an eye toward justice. Definitely guys you’d want on your side if you were in the kind of trouble that wears brass knuckles and carries a sawed-off shotgun.
Vandersteen’s latest work is a novella, Out to Get You, the first of a series featuring true crime writer Vance Custer. Custer is less gritty than Dalmas or Milano, but more charming. Like the others, he’s someone you’d want on your side. Unlike them, you’d also feel comfortable inviting him home for a cup of coffee after the fight. I look forward to reading more about him.
Vandersteen clearly loves the detective genre and does a good job of capturing the appropriate style and tone. English is not his first language, and this sometimes shows in the syntax. However, you’ll also find some vivid, fresh imagery. (I laughed out loud at the description of a carpet–in the home of a dangerous mobster–that looked like someone had made a rug out of Elmo.)
If you like hardboiled detective fiction, check out Jochem Vandersteen’s work, along with the Sons of Spade and the Hardboiled Collective blogs.
Want to read more about him? Check out the following interviews and reviews: