In the ‘Man out of prison’ Noir Trilogy by Dave Zeltserman, the reader is presented with three dangerous men released from prison and the three distinct noir journeys which follow. That’s the premise for my ‘man out of prison’ noir trilogy which Serpent’s Tail is publishing. The first of these, Small Crimes, was published in 2008 and ended up being named by both NPR (National Public Radio) and The Washington Post as one of the top crime novels of the year.

In Small Crimes, my anti-hero, Joe Denton, is a disgraced

ex-cop who is being paroled after eight years for violently

disfiguring the County DA who was building a police corruption case

against Joe. When Joe was on the force, he was a bent cop, a

degenerate gambler, and a coke user. Now that he’s out and back in his

fictional hometown of Bradley, Vermont, Joe finds nobody much wants

him around anymore, not his parents, his ex-colleagues, or his

ex-wife. Joe wants redemption for his past crimes, but the problem is

there are too many old ghosts and too much anger for that happen. The

damage that Joe and his release ultimately causes the town is


The inspiration for Small Crimes came from two newspaper article I

read. The first was about a cop who committed a similar crime as

Joe’s, and like Joe, was able to serve out an amazingly short sentence

in a County Jail. This cop also started collecting his pension shortly

after being released! The second article was about a corrupt Sheriff’s

office in Denver in the 60s where they were robbing stores blind, even

going as far as carrying safes out of stores to open later. Merging

both these stories together, I started playing what-if games and built

a scenario in my mind of how a cop could be treated as lightly as Joe

for such a heinous crime within an utterly corrupt small town

atmosphere. And so Small Crimes was born.

The second book in my series, Pariah, was published in 2009, and is

written on two levels—one level being a fierce crime story, the other

a darkly satirical look at the New York publishing industry and all

their follies. Like a lot of people in Boston, I was fascinated for

years by the Whitey Bulger/Billy Bulger story, and read everything I

could on it. Here you have the most feared mobster in Boston, with his

brother being the State Senate President. Stories would come out about

how Whitey would lean on other pols to keep his brother in power, and

Billy would squash state police investigations into Whitey, going as

far as ruining the careers of state police who would try to bring

Whitey in.

After Whitey goes on the lam it then comes out that he was an

informant for the FBI, that he corrupted several FBI agents, including

his childhood friend, John Connolly. Connolly would tip him off if

anyone went to the FBI to give up Whitey, and Whitey would use the FBI

to get rid of his competition, and he’d also give up his own people to

help Connolly and these other corrupt FBI agents advance their


I knew there was a great crime novel in all of this, and I was mulling

over what angle to go at, when several things happened—first was a

Harvard student who had a reported 500K 2-book deal with Little Brown

being vilified when it came out that she plagiarized other chick lit

books in writing hers. The other thing was a bunch of tell-all books

hitting the shelves early March 2006, by South Boston mobsters (Brutal

by Kevin Weeks, Rat Bastard by John "red" Shea). I now saw my angle,

as well as getting excited about the idea of a "man just out of

prison" trilogy, with Small Crimes being the first, Pariah the second.

I wanted Pariah to start the same as Small Crimes—a man just getting

out of prison, but have this man (Kyle Nevin) be the polar opposite of

Joe Denton. While Joe, for all his weakness and self-delusion, is

still someone who wants to go through life without causing anymore

damage, Kyle is a force of nature and utterly ruthless and

remorseless, someone who leaves death and destruction wherever he

goes. I wrote Pariah early in 2006, and finished the book months

before the OJ Simpson "If I did it" book story came out—which was all

a bizarre coincidence—I thought the behavior of my fictional

publisher in Pariah was beyond the pall and would be too extreme for

any actual publisher, but I was proven wrong. In writing this book I

wanted to work in as much history of Whitey and the South Boston mob

as I could, and I also wanted to write what could be considered a

great crime novel—even with the satirical elements, I wanted to write

this straight up, and not for laughs.

Killer, which is being published in January 2010, rounds out this

trilogy. Killer was inspired very loosely on the idea that Boston mob

hitman, John Martorano, could murder 20 people, then end up striking a

deal for a 12 year prison sentence in exchange for becoming a

government witness agains Whitey Bulger and the South Boston Mob. With

Martorano, he is now out of prison and back in Boston where he’s

living among the shadows of his victims.

My anit-hero in Killer is Leonard March. Like the real-life Martorano,

March was also a hitman for the mob, in his case performing 18 hits.

When he’s picked up on a racketeering charge, he strikes a deal for 14

years in exchange for testifying against the mob and immunity for all

his past crimes. It’s only when the deal is struck that the

authorities learn about his murders.

Just as Joe Denon and Kyle Nevin have there quests on leaving prison,

so does March. His is a search for self-discovery. The chapters of

Killer alternate between past and present, with the past chapters

showing Leonard as a cold-blooded killer, while in the present

chapters he’s an older man trying to understand himself. Since his

release from prison he’s working as a janitor and living in a low-rent

dirty apartment. Any former glory is gone, as well as any fear he

might have once have struck in the hearts of the Boston underworld. He

has been reduced to a toothless wolf left howling futilely at the

moon. March wants to believe that his past job was just a job, that

things could have been different for him. That he could have been a

good husband and father. In many ways, Killer is a meditation on the

mind of a killer, and in the end when Leonard’s past collides with his

present the mystery of how these two sides of March can be reconciled

is at last answered.

Dave Zeltserman is published by Serpent’s Tail

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