I’ve always loved reading but my introduction to crime fiction didn’t come until I was in college—the same time I discovered The Blues. I bought my first Muddy Waters album at a used-records store in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and my first Raymond Chandler work—a short story anthology entitled The Red Wind—in a nearby used-bookstore. Just as I was hooked by the sound of Muddy’s voice growling the opening lines of “Blind Man Blues” I read this passage in the bookstore and I knew that I had to buy the book:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Chandler led me to Hammett of course, and then McBain and the MacDonalds—John D. and Ross. Through the years I’ve read—and attempted to write—every kind of story imaginable, but I always seem to come back to crime fiction, specifically those in the Noir genre.
I think Netflix more than anything is responsible for piquing my interest in foreign authors. I’ve always loved British mysteries and at one point I stumbled upon a short-lived BBC series based on Ian Rankin’s John Rebus character. I’ve since read all the Rebus novels, and I’m currently awaiting the October release of “A Heart Full of Headstones”—Book # 24 in the series.
When I used to read Stephen King—I still think he’s a great writer, but I only have room in my head for so many 700-word novels—it wasn’t for the horror aspect but because of the characters and the sense of place. The same thing goes for Rankin. In all his Rebus novels, Edinburgh Scotland is as much a character as Rebus himself. Chandler’s L.A, McBain’s New York—I know he didn’t call it NYC, but c’mon—and the Russia of Martin Cruz Smith led me to Stieg Larrson’s Sweden and Jo Nesbø’s Norway.
As far as movies and series, I’ve now become a fan of Australian, Polish, German, and even Icelandic mysteries.
I am a huge fan of the Akashic Books series of Noir anthologies from around the world. Since I lived in Ecuador from 2014 to 2020, I particularly enjoy the South American anthologies. I even pitched an Ecuador Noir anthology to Akashic but alas, it was not to be.
I was able to create a series of my own featuring Wilson Salinas, an Ecuadorian P.I. I based the character—very loosely—on the Ecuadorian taxi driver who picked us up at our hotel in Guayaquil and took us on the four-hour drive through the Andes Mountains to our new home in Cuenca. Wilson’s exploits led me to the creation of another character. Capitán Ernesto Guillén of Ecuador’s policía nacional is a corrupt cop, but also an excellent detective.
Stories featuring these two characters have been published in AHMM, Mystery Tribune, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Throughout these stories I’ve tried my best to give readers a sense of the beauty as well as the darkness and complexity of life in this wonderful country.
One of my favorite pastimes of late is to discover new authors in the genre—at least new to me. Over the past year I’ve discovered some fine authors who let you travel the world without leaving home: Caimh McDonnell—Ireland, Renee Pawlish—Denver, and Lee Goldberg—L.A. If you haven’t read anything by these authors, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
One response to “Tom Larsen on His Ever-Expanding Influences”
I like the crime noir writing and crime noir films. They have that no nonsense attitude even though a bit too dark. It is really good to read the smooth sounding narrations of the noir writing. My belief is a story is important than a place and period. I respect who have their hearts on the place they live. For me that kind of narration sounds a bit too territorial.