I am delighted to welcome Delia Pitts back to the blog today! Her most recent book, Murder Take Two, was released this week. Today I thought it would be fun to get to know her better, and she was kind enough to answer our questions.
Name (s): Delia C. Pitts
Genre(s): Private Investigator; Contemporary Noir
Delia, what drew you to the genre you write?
Whether in book form or in film and TV, I’ve always been intrigued by the private eye. This is the lone enforcer, equalizer, or avenger who rights the wrongs of a flawed society. The fact that this character is damaged yet takes on the sins of a corrupt world will forever draw me to the private eye character. I like reading about duality in people. I’m interested in the push-and-pull between contending desires or codes which leads some good people to make bad decisions and some bad people to make good choices. For example, in Casablanca, I secretly loved Captain Reynaud as much as Rick Blaine. I also enjoy the opportunity afforded by the private eye genre to write in first person. Using limited, but vibrant language to get under the tough skin of a taciturn, wounded individual will always give me the best kind of chills.
Tell us about your series.
I write the Ross Agency Mystery series, novels focused on the cases of a tiny neighborhood detective agency based in Harlem, New York City. The central character is SJ Rook, who is a novice investigator when we meet him in book one. He quickly becomes involved in the cases of his mentor Norment Ross, who is the founder and lead investigator of the agency. And Rook falls hard for his other boss, Norment’s daughter, Sabrina Ross. Brina, as she’s called, is a tough, savvy private eye in her own right. The mission of the agency is to provide fix-it services to people in their hardscrabble neighborhood. Rook and the Rosses are detectives without portfolio. They look into the puzzles, trials, debates, and tensions that fall below the radar or interest of the police. They offer security, confidence, protection, and peace-of-mind to clients whose lives often lack these basic comforts. Murder isn’t usually on their agenda, but when it happens, they rise to the occasion.
What sets your book apart from what is out there?
Rook and his partners are African Americans; he is of mixed Black and Mexican heritage. The people in their Harlem neighborhood are diverse in every way you cut it: ethnicity, age, economic and immigration status, language background, sexual identity, religion, and regional origin. Rook’s best pal is NYPD homicide detective Archie Lin, an American born son of Chinese immigrants. Archie’s wife, who is Brina’s best friend, is Pinky Michel, a jazz singer of Haitian background. So, diversity is an integral hallmark of the neighborhood. These books aren’t about diversity per se, they are about ordinary people going about their usual — and unusual – lives.
Another distinguishing feature of this series is how it challenges the conventional tropes of the private eye genre. Rook doesn’t have all the usual signifiers of masculinity in detective fiction. He is not able-bodied; his war-related limp is a significant element in his life and in his approach to crime investigations. Because of his war experiences, Rook refuses to carry a gun. He feels that carrying a lethal weapon is an invitation to violence and he won’t dance at that party. Rook doesn’t have a car, a college education, lots of money, or lots of women. In fact, his enduring love relationship is with his boss and crime-solving partner, Brina Ross. The tension in their evolving romance is an ongoing theme of the series. In the office, Rook is low man on the totem pole with two bosses. At home, he is even lower: he has a cat who is the boss of him.
You’ve just published the 6th book in your series, Murder Take Two. Is there an arc for Rook, or will you keep writing the series for as long as you’re inspired?
There is definitely an arc for Rook. When we meet him in book one, Lost and Found in Harlem, he is at the nadir of his personal collapse. One step removed from the gutter, he lives in a flophouse with prostitutes for neighbors. Rook learns how to be a good PI through the course of the series. In each book, we see him gain new skills and learn to apply his native smarts, gut instincts, and basic decency to solve cases. He also faces new ethical challenges as he works against, and with, criminals and underworld chiefs to resolve issues. Each novel delves into a different aspect of Rook’s personal life: his divorce; his war injuries; his alcoholism; his determination to build a found family, and his troubled relationship with his absentee father. I intend to complete the series at seven or eight books.
What are you currently writing?
I am currently writing a standalone mystery. This features a middle-aged Black woman private eye who returns to her not-so-charming small town in central New Jersey after a catastrophic personal tragedy. Murder ensues, racism and politics intervene, corruption complicates. The working title is Domestic Disturbance.
That sounds great! What are you reading right now?
I just finished Alex Segura’s Secret Identity, and Naomi Hirahara’s Summer of the Big Bachi. Right now, I’m reading Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle. Next, I’m looking forward to reading Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister and Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson.
Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
I also like one I learned in my early days in the newspaper business: Always be kind to your copyboy, he may be your editor one day.
Favorite writing space?
I write at one end of my crowded dining room table. It’s crammed with ring binders, pencil holders, mugs, notebooks, legal pads, sticky notes, candles, and a Benin bronze royal figure.
Favorite deadline snack?
Red grapes today, popcorn tomorrow, raisins and cheddar chunks on my best day.
What do you see when you look up from writing?
I look through the living room window to a massive oak tree sheltering our front lawn. Beyond that is a peaceful cul-de-sac.
Question of the day:
Readers and Writers, who is your favorite private eye, whether in books, TV, or film? To start things off, I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, of course. But V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Milhone are also favorite investigators. Remember Mannix, Richard Diamond, Harry O, Veronica Mars, Paul Drake, and Rockford on TV?
Thank you for visiting the Wickeds, Delia. And congratulations on Murder Take Two. Delia will be giving away a copy of Murder Take Two to a commenter on the blog.
About Murder Take Two:
Two bitter friends. Two hustling brothers. Two killers in love. One detective in pursuit
When cynical private eye SJ Rook is hired to guard the set of a hot new television show filming on the streets of Harlem, he expects his toughest challenge to be corralling star-struck fans. The task is simple: keep peace between fancy Hollywood invaders, loudmouth tourists, and rowdy neighborhood regulars. The sultry presence of an A-list star lights up the set and enflames Rook’s imagination.
But the detective’s brush with Hollywood glamour quickly turns dark. All week, a TV big shot bids for Rook’s attention with outlandish claims of murder threats. Rook dismisses these fears as dramatic excess spiced with Left Coast dazzle. But on the last night of filming, murder writes a grim finale to the production.
With his client dead, Rook’s pursuit of the truth begins. Hampered by remorse, he battles a secretive killer whose motives are hidden in plain sight. After a second murder, Rook’s hopes for solving the case are dashed. He must reset for take two of the investigation. But the tragic past of an alluring actress and Rook’s own unspoken desires complicate his hunt. Distracted by stardust, the detective’s struggle to sort fact from fantasy takes on deadly urgency when the killer makes Rook the last target.
About Delia C. Pitts
I’ve been enchanted with books from my earliest days; one of my first memories is of sitting on the floor in the golden motes of dust flying around the booklined porch my father used as his office. Second grade found me crafting a pastiche on the great Walter Farley novel,”The Black Stallion.” I sold that story, with original cover painting, for .02 cents at our school’s spring book fair.
My writing took a turn from animal lore when I discovered Sherlock Holmes in seventh grade. Agatha Christie, Langston Hughes, Margery Allingham, P.D.James, Walter Mosely, Ralph Ellison,so many fine practitioners of detective and other fiction influenced me over the years. Perhaps the biggest single influence, however, was my long-standing love affair with newspapers. I worked for professional papers in the rough-and-tumble news town of Chicago since my late teen years.
Pursuing a doctorate in African history and a career in the United States Foreign Service reinforced my interest in people, places, and writing. Though the settings were not quite so exotic as West Africa, my subsequent career as a university administrator took me to Texas, New Jersey, and right around the world recruiting international students and promoting study abroad programs. I jumped into the world of fiction writing through the stimulating and fun adventure of fan fiction. To date, I’ve published over sixty fan fiction stories since 2012, under the pen name Blacktop.
My wonderful husband, who’s traveled this journey with me, has been a source of insight and common sense for decades. And our twin sons –smart, sensitive, and fun –are the inspiration for everything I do. www.DeliaPitts.com