When it comes to murder mysteries, Chris Knopf is old school. "Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon started it all off for me,” admitted the author. "I went to London, England, for grad school and picked up a copy there. After that, I read as much Raymond Chandler as I could.
"I’m not big on contemporary thriller writers, although I do admire Sue Grafton and I thought Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River was amazing. I am more of a Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett type of guy. I enjoy the hard-boiled crime fiction from the 1930s through 1950s.”
Knopf (pronounced Noff) is a multi-talented person. One of those talents includes writing a series of thrillers starring Sam Acquillo. The Last Refuge, Two-Time and Head Wounds will be joined by Hard Stop. Set in the unlikely environment of the upscale Hamptons (a popular spot on Long Island, known for attracting wealthy urban New Yorkers in summertime), the books follow ex-boxer Acquillo’s misadventures after crashing off the corporate ladder and becoming a jobbing carpenter. Rather than being drawn to the Hampton’s seasonal rich and famous crowd, the books focus on the people living year-round in upstate New York, particularly in and around Southampton.
Unlike his flawed, wise-cracking hero, Knopf is still firmly ensconced in the corporate world. His novels are a sideline to his full-time career as a principal of a Connecticut marketing communications agency. Copywriting in the PR and marketing worlds paid Knopf’s bills long before The Last Refuge was published in 2005. Knopf was scripting TV commercials for banks, radio spots for car dealers and writing print advertising copy for bicycles and casinos long before he was devising murder mystery plots.
In classic thriller style, Sam Acquillo has lived a life of mistakes having lost a wife and career as a high-flying systems analyst. All the novels in the Hamptons series can standalone. The Last Refuge introduces middle-aged Acquillo, his career washed up but with a murder on his doorstep. Two-Time sees Acquillo getting on with his life of drinking vodka and reading Kant until a car bomb shatters the peace and quiet. Head Wounds concerns a murder in the Hamptons’ property developing community. Hard Stop takes Acquillo into the worlds of private security, ruthless financiers and young hedonists.
Knopf has a home in the Hamptons and his relationship with the area stretches across several decades. "The father of my wife bought a shack in the Hamptons in the 1950s and paid $250 for it,” he said. "We’ve lived in the Hamptons since the early 1990s. In reality, places are not always as they are perceived to be – the Hamptons has a year-round community. From my experience, I find that it’s a multi-dimensional place and not just the haunt of the rich and famous.”
And Sam Acquillo?
"He’s a mixture – just like all my characters,” explained the author. "Interviews with the media have actually helped me figure him out because I am often asked about where he came from. There’s a lot of my old man, Charlie Knopf in him. Also my grandfather was a boxer, a working class guy from the woods in Pennsylvania who ended up getting a degree from Penn (Pennsylvania State University), so I took some inspiration from him.
"For me, the plot is the hardest part of writing a thriller. I also find the dialogue difficult. I rough out an idea with a beginning and an end, and then go from there. I really don’t want to be doing endless rewrites.”
Knopf has no trouble finding time to write despite his demanding career in marketing. "It’s not too difficult when there’s no TV or golf - you just write at nights and weekends,” he says but is sure he’ll continue with a dual career. "I have two houses and a dog (called Samuel Beckett) to support so I won’t be becoming a full-time author any time soon."