When it comes to my literary idols, Mike Lupica is pretty high on the list.
Having worked as a sports journalist before launching The Real Book Spy, I’d followed Lupica’s career (both in print and on ESPN, etc.) for two decades before finally having the opportunity to cover him as a thriller writer on TRBS. To me, there was nobody better in the world of sports, and I remember how excited I used to be to tune into The Sports Reporters or to read his latest newspaper column. He’s a legend, plain and simple.
Nowadays, though, Lupica (who has also penned nonfiction works) is perhaps best known for his role as a fiction writer. He was, after all, the writer tasked with continuing Robert B. Parker’s Sunny Randall series—which he did brilliantly, receiving praise from both critics and readers alike. Now, he’s back with a brand new book that stars both Sunny and Jesse Stone, and for my money, it’s one of the best crime thrillers hitting stores this year . . . and quite possibly the best novel set in one of Parker’s universe since the iconic author passed away.
Just before the release of Robert B. Parker’s Fool’s Paradise, Mike Lupica agreed to go back on the record for our Five Questions segment, and this time around I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this book to how he’s spent his time in quarantine this year. As always, Lupica provided some great answers, and his fans are sure to get excited about one of the projects he teased—a new book that he co-wrote with one of the most famous authors on the planet. (Spoiler: It’s James Patterson!)
See the full Q&A below, then make sure to purchase your copy of Robert B. Parker’s Fool’s Paradise, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: Last year, I was blown away by what you did with Sunny Randall. This year, I’m ever more impressed with how you managed to capture Jesse Stone—and I loved this book. How did you end up being the writer chosen to continue two of RBP’s characters?
Lupica: First of all, thank you for the support you’ve shown me along the way TRBS, because it’s meant a lot, especially in the run-up to Blood Feud. The truth is, this all started quite randomly. I was on my way to a family vacation in Vermont a few years ago, and listening to the great Kate Burton do the audio-book version of the last Sunny Randall that Robert B. had written, Spare Change. I’d read the book when it came out, but I loved Kate capturing Sunny’s sound the way Joe Mantegna has so brilliantly captured Spenser’s.
Anyway, I called my agent, Esther Newberg, and asked why no one had ever continued the Sunny series the way Spenser had lived on and Jesse and Cole and Hitch had in the westerns. She called me back in an hour after talking to Ivan Held and his team at Putnam. She said he wanted me to write a sample chapter. I laughed and said I hadn’t been doing a pitch when I asked about Sunny! But the next morning I sat down and wrote eight or nine pages that essentially became the first chapter of “Blood Feud.” Ivan and the team loved the pages. He also knew about my friendship with Bob, and that was quite meaningful to him. He was supportive from the start, said that after the sample chapter I’d “captured the voice.” Now, after two Sunny books and one Jesse, here we are. It all started with that one phone call. It continues to be my great honor to be in what Ace Atkins calls the “Parker-sphere.” As I’ve told you before, Robert B. Parker was one of my writing heroes. But Bob Parker became my friend. I think he would be pleased with the books, and the reception they’ve gotten.
TRBS: How did you come up with the story idea for FOOL’S PARADISE, and did you have to go back and do a lot of research into Jesse as a character?
Lupica: It’s funny. The last Jesse Stone novel that Robert B. wrote was Split Image, and it was my favorite. I thought his best Jesse Stones were the ones that had two plots traveling in different lanes, which is something I do in Fool’s Paradise. And it was clear by then that he loved the idea of Jesse and Sunny being together. So I knew that Sunny needed to be in Paradise for this one, and I wanted Molly Crane to have a bigger part than she ever had before because I’ve loved that character from the start. Once Sunny was in town, it just seemed natural for them to become sidekicks in one of the sub-plots. Jesse calls them Thelma and Louise. And I’d always wondered what Troy and Kevin and Bo Marino, the high-school villains of Split Image because of their violence against Candace Pennington, might be doing all this time later. I’ve brought Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris and Susan Silverman (and now Dix in Fool’s Paradise). This time I decided to bring back some really bad young guys.
And as for research? I’ve probably read every Spenser three times by now, from the time I picked up The Godwulf Manuscript in college. Same with Jesse. Same with Sunny. By now they feel like old friends. Molly and Suit, too. I know them, and their attitude, and the world Robert B. created for them. And just happy to be living in it.
TRBS: Which character is harder to channel, Sunny or Jesse?
Lupica: There are so many dimensions to both of them, which is why they’re such big fun to write. In the end, it’s probably harder for me to channel Jesse’s personality, whom Molly calls “the alonest person” she’s ever met. But even with some of the darkness he’s always carried around inside him, and the women in the life he’s lost, and his struggles with alcoholism from the time he first showed up in Paradise as the new chief, you always come back to this, and so does he: He isn’t just a good cop. He’s a great cop. Sometimes in the past, it was all he had. From the start, I found that fascinating about him. Made me want to read about him before I started writing about him. But I also have always thought he was funny as hell. You see that side of him in “Fool’s Paradise.” Especially when he occasionally gets sideways with the two most important women in his life: Sunny and Molly.
TRBS: How have you filled the time this year during the COVID-19 pandemic? Did you do any reading while social distancing at home? Get more writing done?
Lupica: I have done more writing than you can believe. I finished Fool’s Paradise as I was doing the final edits on my new book for middle-graders, Triple Threat, which came out a couple of weeks ago. I also co-wrote a book called The Horse Woman, with my friend James Patterson, which is scheduled to come out in late 2021. It’s set in the horse world, and is about elite show jumpers, primarily a mother and daughter. And a lot more going on than that, believe me. The whole process of working with Jim was as much fun as I’ve ever had, and like a master class in storytelling. As for reading? I have gone across the Atlantic this summer and discovered the works of Neil Broadfoot and Mason Cross. Finally finished the Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty. Loved Fair Warning by Michael Connelly. And I just read Squeeze Me by my pal Carl Hiaasen, which is the funniest book he’s ever written. As you know, that’s saying plenty.
TRBS: Lastly, now that this book is set to come out, what’s next for you?
Lupica: I am two-thirds of the way through Payback, which will be my third Sunny Randall. It’s about poker and card cheats and hedge funders who do a different kind of cheating and murder and some bad stuff that happens to Spike that Sunny can’t let stand. Spoiler alert: Jesse and Richie end up in the same room. Oh, and there’s the Russian that Sunny bites . . .
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.