When it comes to capturing the grit and allure of New Orleans’ dark side, no one is doing it with as much style and success as author Michael Allen Zell. He’s just published City Krystal Soulman, the third installment in his noir mystery novel series, which centers on New Orleans criminologist Bobby Delery.
What kind of alchemy creates a Michael Allen Zell?
The blend of an always-curious half business and half creative mind. I’ve always had a yearning to know what really makes things tick once you dig into the soft underbelly of propriety.
Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Anne Rice and many others have drawn inspiration from living here. Is New Orleans still a city for writers?
Many writers seek inspiration from New Orleans by visiting. It is still a city for writers and artists to live in, but I think it now requires working harder due to cost of living and competition.
You are a self-proclaimed noir nut. What three books/films would you say have influenced you the most?
Chester Himes and Jim Thompson couldn’t be more dissimilar in style and locale, but Himes’ Harlem Detectives series and Thompson’s books influenced me the most. Add the ’70s to that, mostly 1973–1975—the vibe from movies with actors like Max Julien and Pam Grier, books by Holloway House authors such as Iceberg Slim and Emory Holmes II and that of music from the era. There’s a reason all the Bobby Delery series have an epigraph from Curtis Mayfield.
Why do you think New Orleans lends itself to the noir genre?
Because the city still operates by its own rules and on its own time. An author can’t outdo the headlines, though, so you have to proceed with a plan. Rearranging reality is boring. My approach is to cover the city but focus on the 9th Ward, so there are recurring characters throughout the series. Also, I operate on the idea that every one of us is utterly ridiculous, but we hide it as much as possible—and that in certain circumstances we’re all capable of just about anything. Most authors don’t use quotations for characters’ thoughts, but I do because I value the unspoken as much as what is said aloud.
Your new novel, City Krystal Soulman, is the third in a series centered on criminologist Bobby Delery. What can readers expect?
In this book, a jazz musician is running a pyramid scheme with pastors to sell tickets for seats on an ark to be built for storm season. Also, the sister of Bobby Delery’s girlfriend has gone missing. So Delery’s thrown into the streets and finds solving the latter leads to the former. In each one of these books, Delery crosses another line. A new taboo.