Frightening, feral, and funny, Flinch is a fast-paced noir set amid the frenzied freak show of Southern California. Tabloid journalist Jimmy Gage and his plastic-surgeon brother, Jonathan, have long had a twisted and sometimes nearly fatal rivalry, but the ante was upped when Jonathan recently married Jimmy’s ex. So when Jimmy begins to suspect that Jonathan is the serial killer known as The Eggman, he’s neither surprised nor displeased. What ensues is this harried and hard-edged whodunnit that involves everything from petty porn stars to WWF wannabes to gut-wrenchingly gruesome gangsters and gang lords. Flinch is an intricately plotted whirlwind of a tale that will grip you until the very last page.
“May be the best novel you’ll read all year. . . . Miss this novel at your peril.” –The Plain Dealer
“This is a world like no other. If you savor the bizarre, this one’s for you.” —The Washington Post Book World
“What is distinctive about Ferrigno’s gripping action is that it is often set in a natural world whose appeal he makes the reader vividly feel.” –The New York Times
“Like other inheritors of the Hammett-Chandler-Ross MacDonald private-eye tradition, Ferrigno balances the tough doings with a strong sense of moral outrage and compassion.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Readers familiar with Ferrigno’s work in The Horse Latitudes and Heartbreaker may have thought they had experienced the best of Ferrigno, but Flinch ups the ante several notches.” –The Seattle Times
“So adroit is Ferrigno’s carefully layered plot . . . even careful readers may overlook Ferrigno’s elegant but muscular prose style.” –The News & Observer
“A grand read, neatly plotted with fascinating characters speaking great lines. . . . From start to finish, the reader’s mind must race at a frantic pace to keep up with the twists and turns.” –Winston-Salem Journal
“Ferrigno belongs to a group of first-rate authors who have kept the noir tradition alive by showing the dark side of sunny Southern California. He does it, though, from the hip and with a thoroughly modern perspective.” –Rocky Mountain News
“Hugely entertaining. . . . There are enough simmering subplots in this yarn to provide surprises around every corner. Ferrigno provides snappy dialogue, fast-paced action, flashy context and intriguing subtext.” –The Olympian
“A carnival-ride thriller of contemporary California noir by a criminally overlooked writer. . . . Addictive.” –The Dallas Morning News
“Perfectly entertaining.” –Arizona Daily Star
A Conversation with Robert Ferrigno
Q: First, a little background: you earned a degree in Philosophy and then wrote poetry. It would seem like a fairly radical shift to start writing noir thrillers — how did that change come about? A: Not as radical a shift as you might think. I studied Philosophy out of a desire to make sense of the world and of myself–I was never interested in becoming a professor. Writing novels allows me to struggle with the same moral questions that interested me the most in school, i.e., what is our responsibility to our friends and family? Can doing good be doing harm? When is violence justified? Who are the true criminals? My heroes are always morally tainted, uncertain of the location of the higher ground, their wits and their sense of humor all that stands between them and the abyss. Giving up poetry was easy. When I was in college I got second place at the Southeast Poetry Festival. James Dickey awarded me my prize and told me, "son, you can really write." My prize was the paperback of Dickey’s collected poems. First place got the hardback version. I knew then, I better go into something where excellence paid off a little better.
Q: Your first major newspaper job was as a feature writer at the Orange County Register, and you got the "adventure-and-new-money beat"–was that a good thing? Did that assignment provide any inspiration (or time) for the writing of one of your previous books, THE HORSE LATITUDES? A: Being a feature writer was the next best thing to being rich and crazy. I flew with the Blue Angels, drove race cars, went on week long paramilitary adventures with gun nuts and interviewed everyone from strip-club hot-oil wrestlers to retired Joint Chief of Staff Curtis Lemay. I learned to absorb these experiences and personalities, the sounds and sensations, the speech patterns and dress, the way my subjects held their cup of coffee or tilted their head when they thought, all the bits and pieces that reveal character. I used it all.
Q: What makes Southern California such rich territory for your imagination? A: Southern California is the epicenter of a certain sleek, cutting-edge cool, a place of vast ambition and no interest in working for it. My kind of place, my kind of people. Just as the most dangerous creatures in the ocean are the brightest and most gaudy, L.A. provides a panoply of equally beautiful, amoral types –valet parking attendants offering the latest designer drug or their latest screenplay to their Range Rover clientele, cocktail waitresses debating whether starring in a porno movie or dating a cable-TV development executive would be more useful, "speaking, like career-wise." I also like the auditory mix of Southern California, the amalgam of surf lingo with Black street slang, the mix of Hollywood hype and homeboy Spanish.
Q: In FLINCH, the relationship between the two brothers, Jimmy and Jonathan, is so complex and twisted, and yet so believable, that readers are going to wonder how you came up with it. Do you have brothers or did you just make it all up?
A: Well, like Jonathan, I’m the older brother in a complex, twisted relationship with my brother, James (I know, I know), and like the two brothers in FLINCH, James and I are opposites, envious and repelled by aspects of the other which we lack. I wanted to explore the love-hate relationship that so many brothers have, particularly the erotic tension when they both are attracted to the same woman. That’s the simple explanation, but I think the subtext of FLINCH is what happens when a family member commits a crime of violence. First, you’re surprised, of course, then you think about it some more, and you’re not so surprised, and sometimes you’re left wondering if you share more than blood. About ten years ago my father was arrested, charged with attempted murder after shooting a man in the face with .357 magnum at point-blank range. Only the fact that my father was 65 years old at the time, and his hand shook slightly, caused the bullet to shatter the man’s face without killing him. The crime caused me to question my own morality, my own sense of family loyalty, and ultimately brought me closer to my father than I had been in years. This adds an extra spin to the Jimmy and Jonathan story which I wanted to make the most of.
Q: The three women in FLINCH–Jane, Olivia and Pilar–are not just strong, unique characters, but are crucial elements of the book. How do these women, and women in general, fit into your conception of a crime thriller?
A: I always like to have an unfolding love interest in my books, just to amp up the tension and make things more complicated. It’s also a great way to make my male protagonist, no matter how capable in terms of crime and punishment, feel that he’s in over his head. In FLINCH I have a love interest (Olivia) that Jimmy has lost, and a love interest (Jane) that is growing. Two for one. I like the contrasts between these two women that Jimmy is so attracted to: Olivia who is wild and free but has given it up for the comfortable domesticity of a marriage to Jimmy’s successful brother, and Jane, who is ostensibly a proper, by-the-book detective, but behind closed doors has a drinking problem, and a passion for justice matched only by her attraction for Jimmy. Pilar is one of my favorite characters. She’s a crook with a moral streak, an entrepreneur, a seller of hot merchandise, and a woman you don’t want to cross. I had originally thought of her as a one-chapter character, just a stand in to move the plot forward, but I fell in love with her the moment I saw her with her feet up in her living room, holding an olive jar containing a human finger in one hand, while eating an orange from her back yard. The confluence of violent retribution represented by the severed finger, and her nurturing a back yard full of fruit trees touched my heart.
Q: The Hollywood scene permeates FLINCH, from Jimmy’s work as a film critic, to characters who are film makers or fans. How important is Hollywood to your vision of Southern California and why?
A: Hollywood is crucial to my depiction of Southern California, not just the movies, but the theatricality and excess that is the essence of L.A., the emphasis on alluring surfaces and back-lot facades. The first chapter of FLINCH takes place at a professional wrestling match, with all the attendant hype and bluster and real action, and this is as much a Hollywood moment as the latest blockbuster. Hollywood is a state of mind, not a geographical location, the land of the great hustle, a place where anything is possible, reinvention is constant, and no one believes anyone.
Q: Speaking of bad guys…you’ve got quite a collection here: Great White, the 300 pound white-supremacist who paints beautiful watercolors and asks people he’s strangling what they see on the other side; Macklen, a crippled thug whose canes are more deadly than a gun; Blaine, the sweet-faced teenage enforcer who almost breaks Jimmy’s back and then apologizes to him and asks for his autograph. Where do you find these characters?
A: I use bits and pieces of people I’ve known and make the rest up. As a reporter for seven or eight years in Southern California, and I met all types, but the ones that affected me the most were the tough guys with dreams. Not just ambitions, dreams. Great White, who has killed a lot of people, killed them up close and personal, truly does want to know if there is life after death. When he’s not on the pages of FLINCH, I imagine him going to past-life regressions and reading Shirley McClaine. Blaine, the teenage enforcer, is capable of snipping off a man’s finger to make a point about paying ones debts, but he also has dreams of becoming a professional wrestler, and meeting the Rock. In L.A., this is not an uncommon fantasy. I once accompanied an auto repo man on a 3am run in a bad part of town– one minute he was casually breaking into locked garage for a hookup, the next we were racing away while he sang me his latest country and western composition. For all I know, he could be the toast of Nashville by now, or long dead, shot by an angry Porsche owner who missed a couple payments and still wanted his ride.