Jo Grayson had a dark past. Ex con-artist, ex-junkie, complete and utter screw-up. However, she left all that behind her when she became pregnant. And now, six months later, Jo has a dingy one-room apartment and a crappy but steady job as a cab driver. Things are looking up.
But then one day, her past catches up with Jo in the form of a mysterious stranger getting into her cab. The stranger is Detective Ray McCormick, a cop on a mission to hunt down the criminal mastermind known only as the Kraken. McCormick wants information, information only Jo can provide, for Jo used to work for the Kraken and is one of the few people ever to walk out on him and live to tell the tale.
Jo is as eager as anyone to see the Kraken go down. But helping McCormick could put both Jo’s life and that of her unborn child at risk.
Read an excerpt.
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Some background information:
- New York City’s Finest is a novelette of 12000 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- I sometimes use online generators and writing prompts for inspiration. And hence the initial inspiration for New York City’s Finest was the They fight crime! generator for unlikely buddy cop teams. One day, I played around with it and got: “He’s a world-famous devious cop plagued by the memory of his family’s brutal murder. She’s a pregnant junkie cab driver who hides her beauty behind a pair of thick-framed spectacles. They fight crime!” I thought, “This sounds like the set-up for one of those TV shows about male-female buddy cop teams with oodles of unresolved sexual tension.” And since I’ve always been a sucker for that sort of TV show, I decided to write the story. Once I did, I found that I really enjoyed Jo’s voice.
- The New York City’s Finest series (and it will be a series, if the first one catches on) may be structured like a TV drama, but it was also strongly inspired by the so-called “Romanhefte”, slim pulp novelettes that are sold at German newsstands and come out monthly or biweekly. I’m something of a “Romanheft” scholar and was always fascinated by the work ethic of the “Romanheft” authors who often write several novelettes in multiple series per month. So I decided to create my own “Romanheft” type series with New York City’s Finest.
- “Romanhefte” come in many genres, including crime series with “glamorous” international, usually American settings. The most famous of the German crime pulps and one of the most popular and long running German pulp series of all is G-Man Jerry Cotton which chronicles the adventures of a New York based FBI agent. Jerry Cotton and his version of New York City, which is only very loosely related to the real world version, were a strong inspiration for New York City’s Finest.
- The cop, Ray McCormick, even gets his surname from a long defunct Jerry Cotton competitor. I stumbled across the McCormick series while researching an article on the rivals of Jerry Cotton and was amused, because the only thing that made the rather unremarkable McCormick series about a tough undercover cop in tough New York City remarkable was the fact that the title had to be changed after a few issues, because German readers had problems pronouncing and spelling McCormick. So McCormick went even deeper undercover and emerged as Mac Cormick, which must really have confused those underworld types. And since poor McCormick did not even get to keep his name before fading into obscurity, I decided to borrow it for my hero.
- Unlike the German pulp crime authors of old, I tried to get the details of the setting as accurate as possible (not that they didn’t try. They just failed remarkably often). Luckily, the Internet and particularly Google Streetview have made research of much easier. The points I needed to research included questions such as “Do New York Public Housing Authority houses have basements?” (yes, cause Hurricane Sandy flooded them – including in Red Hook where Jo lives) and “Do New York Public Housing Authority houses have trash chutes?” (yes, cause a teen mom once threw her newborn baby down such a chute – luckily, the kid survived).
- Coincidentally, the biggest research problems were caused by the fairly brief sequence at Times Square, because it turns out that Times Square no longer looks even remotely like it did that last time I saw it back in the 1990s, never mind that the traffic patterns have been drastically changed. In the original draft, Jo stops her cab directly underneath the A+P steaming coffee cup advert (which has apparently been there for decades in some form and which I clearly remembered from my own visit). Alas, the steaming coffee cup is no more, so Hershey’s cocoa will have to do.
- The unseen villain The Kraken was inspired both by the rather over-the-top villains of the German pulp series as well as by another pop cultural obsession of mine, the West German 1960s Edgar Wallace movies with their cloaked and masked mastervillains who bore monickers like the Frog, the Shark, the Squeaker, the Green Archer, the Blue Hand, the Black Abbot, the Sinster Monk, the Monk with the Whip (lots of clergy among the Wallace villains), the Gorilla of SoHo and so on. The Kraken is very much a character in this vein, an unseen and seemingly invincible menace that lurks behind the scenes. Though the Kraken doesn’t wear a mask like the Wallace villains, he’s simply never seen.
- The Kraken’s habit of tattooing his sign on the forearms of the members of his gang was borrowed from the 1959 Edgar Wallace film Face of the Frog, which also happens to be one of my favourite movies of all time.
- The cover image is a stock image by Will Phillips.