Jochem Vandersteen is the creator and master of the Sons of Spade web site, dedicated to private investigator fiction. In addition to being a tireless seeker and promoter of new PI fiction, Jochem is no mean hand at it himself. His Noah Milano series, where the scion of a Mafia family addresses his mother’s dying wish to go straight, yet can’t quite get as clean as he’d like despite his best efforts, is as original an outlook as I’ve seen. His Mike Dalmas stories are great pulpy fun, and a new character, Lenny Parker, shows great promise.
Jochem has branched out into including other writers in anthologies of PI fiction. His most recent collection, The Shamus Sampler 2, launched last week. I can’t brag on it too much—I’m one of the contributing authors, and it would be indelicate of me—suffice to say it’s a solid and varied look at the genre. I read it over the weekend and can honestly say I am flattered to have been included.
Jochem took time from his busy schedule of being Jochem to answer some questions about himself, and The Shamus Sampler 2
One Bite at a Time: You’re Dutch, born and raised. How did you become so fascinated with American private eye fiction?
Jochem Vandersteen: I guess it all started seeing the Spenser For Hire TV show and finding a translation of a Spenser novel in the library the next day back when I was a kid. I loved the tough guy pairing of Spenser and Hawk and found his views of manhood inspirational. Several years later I became a fan of comics, horror, and sci-fi but when I walked into a bookstore at a train station I spotted a Spenser paperback, picked it up and got hooked again. From that I went looking for other PI books to read, having run out of Spensers and found out it wasn’t just the writing I liked but also definitely the genre. So I guess you can blame it all on the great Robert B. Parker.
OBAAT: Is there Dutch PI fiction, by which I mean stories about Dutch detectives set in The Netherlands?
JV: There is hardly any Dutch PI fiction. In reality we have some PIs working here, but the genre is not very popular here. Probably because PI’s here don’t carry a gun and thrillers focusing on female writers thrive much better here. That’s why I write in English.
OBAAT: How did the Sons of Spade blog get started?
JV: I figured it might serve to promote my debut novel, The White Knight Syndrome. I soon found out PI writers are a great bunch of guys always happy to do an interview and supply review copies. With all the sounds of the gene dying I started a personal crusade to get people to read more PI fiction.
OBAAT: Apart from Dashiell Hammett (obviously), who do you consider to be the pinnacle of the PI genre, both past and present?
JV: Of course you can’t beat Hammett or Chandler… But as you can see from the first question I really admire Robert B. Parker. He showed us that the PI can be a modern kind of guy and still be tough. Without him I just don’t think there would still be written as much PI fiction as there is now. His prose is always so lean and mean, his characters so lively… There might have come better writers in the genre after him, but no one has left a bigger mark.
OBAAT: What prompted you to branch out into editing anthologies?
JV: There are a lot of PI writers whose work deserves to be noted, but the old anthologies of the Private Eye Writers of America that I used to love don’t come out anymore. So I figured, why not try to publish a PI anthology myself?
OBAAT: How were the authors for the Shamus Sampler anthologies chosen?
JV: Some were old friends, some reacted to my call for submission. All know how to write a lean and mean story featuring private eyes.
OBAAT: What do you like best about putting the anthologies together?
JV: Discovering cool new authors.
OBAAT: What do you like least?
JV: Not much really. Getting people to read it sometimes feels like work a bit. I have to say my pals Keith Dixon and Sean Dexter have been a great help getting it all out in print. It would have been a much harder job without them.
OBAAT: You’ve established a considerable footprint in the world of PI fiction, as proven by your ability to get heavyweights such as Reed Farrel Coleman and Tim Hallinan to write the forewords of your collections. How does that feel?
JV: It feels so great to communicate with the writers I admire. Imagine an actor on a small stage show e-mailing with Robert DeNiro… The fact writers like Reed or Timothy Hallinan are willing to help me out shows me my work is appreciated.
OBAAT: Do you feel the blog and the anthologies compete for attention with your own fiction, or do they complement it?
JV: They complement it. More lovers of PI fiction mean more potential readers for me, so that means more reasons to write my own fiction. I do have to admit it becomes harder and harder to find the time with all these other doings.
OBAAT: Tell us a little about your own fiction.
JV: I write mostly PI fiction myself such as the Noah Milano series. That one focuses on the son of a mobster looking for redemption and working as a security specialist to find it. I also published some pulpy hardboiled action stories in the Mike Dalmas series and have dabbled in superhero fiction and some horror stuff. I also have a story by myself in the second Sampler, featuring roadie / PI Lenny Parker. Right now I’m working on a new series as well.
OBAAT: What’s next for you?
JV: I am currently writing the first in a new series of novellas featuring Vance Custer, a true crime writer who is willing to investigate your case… as long as he gets the book and movie rights.