Murders aren’t particularly fun in real life, but murder mysteries are another story. Brad Parks, a former Star Ledger reporter who took an early buyout and moved to Virginia, can’t seem to really leave the Garden State behind, and has just published his third mystery novel set here, “The Girl Next Door,” with gumshoe reporter (and alter ego) Carter Ross hot on the trail of a hit-and-run murderer of a fellow Bloomfielder.
Baristaville readers will enjoy the familiar, both in locations and some of the side stories. Remember the bear that showed up in downtown Newark one summer day a few years back? It’s in here. Ever go to the State Street Grill? Or get lost in the tangle of service roads at Newark Airport? So does Carter Ross. Need a plausible explanation for a dented hood? How about slamming into a deer in the South
Park Mountain Reservation? For literary types, there’s even a visit to Philip Roth’s boyhood home in Weequahic. And just for kicks, what could be more fun than a flamboyantly gay fellow reporter who criticizes your clothes but speaks fluent Spanish to reluctant sources?
We asked Parks some questions about his book by email.
All the locations — did you have to come back to make sure you got them right? Is this your way of connecting with NJ when you still live in Va? Do you miss it up here?
Luckily I’m up in Jersey often enough that I can eyeball something if I really need to. But you’d be surprised how much you can get off the street view of Google Maps. Of course, it helps that I spent ten years living and working in what we might call Baristanet country. A decade does a nice job imprinting a place in your brain.
Hanging out with Carter Ross is definitely how I connect with New Jersey, even if it’s only in my mind. I miss Jersey, of course. Or at least parts of it. I don’t miss the traffic. Or the stoplights (we’ve only got three in the county where I now live). But I do miss the people. As a group, Jersey people are tough, smart, irreverent and, much like the towns where they live, full of character. And can I tell your readers something else? Cherish your bagels. Seriously. You have no idea how good they are until you seen what passes for a bagel here in The South. And don’t even get me started on pizza.
Well, I believe the first words of the copy in the book — other than the title and my name — are “This is a work of fiction…” So I’m not terribly worried. Besides, the publisher of the Ledger has changed several times in the last few years. I can always say, “Oh, I really meant the other one.” The State Street Grill is actually mentioned in very favorable terms. As for the union guys… well, you’re not going to print where I live, are you?
Despite references to troubled times in the newspaper business, this gumshoe journalism seems a bit dated. Isn’t everybody just rewriting the Huffington Post these days? Of course it’s necessary to the genre — but do you think it still exists in real life?
There are definitely times when I worry bookstores are going to see a novel about a true investigative reporter and file it under “historical fiction.” But I actually think investigative reporting is making a comeback. Newspapers like The Star-Ledger are realizing they can’t be all things to all people anymore, so they’re focusing in on what really matters, like investigations. Ted Sherman’s work on the Passaic Valley Water Commission comes to mind. And Amy Ellis Nutt did just win a Pulitzer Prize for a big, meaty piece that took her the better part of a year to put together. So it’s safe to say the investigative reporter isn’t dead yet.