"I prefer characters with gray areas."
The Stakes is my sixth book, but my first standalone. My previous two novels centred on Marshall
Grade, an ex-undercover cop who lives in witness protection but still attracts havoc. Marsh is great fun to write, but by the time I’d finished the second in his series—
Marshall’s Law—I’d spent four years with him, and I felt like we’d both earned a holiday.
So The Stakes takes place in Marshall’s neighborhood—New York City—but features a different cast of thugs. At the heart of the story is Miles Keller, a man who’s suffered a midlife crisis and decided that being a robber is a nice way to augment his day job as a robbery detective for the NYPD.
I prefer characters with gray areas. James Ellroy once said he doesn’t care if readers don’t like his characters, provided they like the stories they’re in. I’ve adapted the Ellroy approach slightly, because I want readers to like my people, but I operate on the principle that patchy ethics in fiction don’t matter—provided the result is interesting. Hopefully this applies to Miles: shady, but compelling. My intention was to give him a warped moral code with a two-tiered structure: on one level—the level that lets him rip-off criminals—he’s driven by self-interest; but down in the bedrock of his psyche he’s got qualities that normal people should admire.
It’s his self-interest that triggers the plot (swindling gangsters is fraught with danger); but hopefully it’s his more human aspects that keep readers hooked: Miles’ life is coming apart and he’s facing either death or prison—but there’s a small chance he can escape with his life and his loot and save the people he loves. The stakes, as you perhaps guessed, are rather high.
It was great spending time in New York researching the novel. I rode Miles’ subway route, bought coffee at his local diner, and even stayed in the hotel he uses. The benefit of having first-hand knowledge of my settings was that every scene felt vivid, and the resulting story is a mad dash from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back again. It was a blast to write, and I hope you love reading it.
by Ben Sanders is published by Allen & Unwin. BUY NOW.