2022 is a big year for New York author Lee Matthew Goldberg. This month he launched Immoral Origins, the first book in his Desire Card series, and he plans to release four more before the year is out. These rapid-fire pulp noir novels start off in New York City in the late 1970s and follow a dangerous gang who all wear movie star masks as they try to take over the underworld. Jake, the hero, is a Robin Hood-style character and ends up wearing an Errol Flynn mask. But it’s the femme fatale, Marilyn, who initially draws him to the gang.
It’s propulsive stuff, from an author whose writing history goes back to childhood, when he invented adventures starring the family’s pet dog. Lee has moved across genres as he’s developed, covering young adult, historical and science fiction, and in 2015 his debut Slow Down, a neo-noir thriller hit the selves. In Desire Card, he aims to keep those thriller elements burning in a fast-moving, often brutal pulp oeuvre. We sat down with him to find out more…
First of all, what are crime fiction lovers going to love about Immoral Origins?
Immoral Origins is a classic story about a character’s moral backslide. Jake Barnum has already been flirting with going down a wrong path. When he’s introduced to the Desire Card, which promises “Any Wish Fulfilled for the Right Price,” he enters their glitzy world, but the price he pays is becoming a hit man for the organisation.
Tell us more about Jake and what inspired this character?
Jake is a guy from Hell’s Kitchen in the late 70s. He’s still living with his folks and helping take care of his sick brother Emile. He does some petty thieving and questionable odd jobs to get by, but he always dreams of something bigger than being stuck in his neighborhood. I wanted to create a character who you root for, despite his failings. Jake’s a good guy, just easily duped.
The Desire Card gang are something else, with their masks. There’s a pulp crime, almost comic book feel to them. How did you come up with this concept?
Yeah, I wanted it to have a pulpy comic book feel. I knew the gang needed masks to be incognito, like the bank robbers in Point Break who wear masks of ex-presidents. The series had a noir feel to it already, so I thought of having masks of old movie stars instead. In the fourth novel, Vicious Ripples, the readers learn about the origin of its leader and why he chose Clark Gable for his mask.
What does Marilyn represent in the piece? As a reader you’re hoping she’ll turn out to be good but she steps on Jake time and again.
Marilyn’s a tough one. She’s a femme fatale certainly, but she’s quite vulnerable. She’s been beaten down time and again, so she trusts no one but herself. And even though she really loves Jake, she won’t let him be her downfall. The real Marilyn Monroe was very different from her public persona, so I used that as an inspiration for my Marilyn.
Why did you want to set it in 70s New York?
Because of Gable’s age in the later novels, he would’ve started the Card around then. I was born in 1978 in NYC, so the book became an ode to my childhood. I remember the early 80s enough and the look and feel for what Manhattan was like. I had always wanted to re-capture that in a book.
It has a pulp noir setup, but it moves like a thriller. How have you balanced the atmosphere and action, and where do you position it in the genre?
I would say it’s split directly between the two. Immoral Origins is definitely noir and is probably the most noir of all five books. The second book is more of an action thriller, the third, fourth and fifth more literary thrillers, but there’s a sprinkle of noir in all of them in regards to the mood. And I always like to make sure my books move like thrillers.
What can we expect in book two, Prey No More?
Prey No More is set in the present time and follows an operative of the Card named JD Storm who decides to leave the organisation and is hunted down. While Immoral Origins takes place solely in NYC, Prey No More spans the globe from Vermont, to Morocco, Macau, and back to NYC.
Who are your crime fiction influences and what attracts you to these writers or books?
A ton. I read a lot of crime fiction while writing Immoral Origins. Raymond Chandler, James M Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Cormac McCarthy. Stephen King always for the thriller aspects. I tend to like characters that exist in grey areas. You want to root for them, but sometimes their immoral choices make it hard.
What’s next for Lee Matthew Goldberg?
So, I’m finishing up the fifth Desire Card book Desire’s End. All the books will be out in 2022. I’m also adapting my young adult novels into a TV pilot with an actress, and working with a director to adapt my first novel Slow Down into an indie movie. Both are in the early stages, but I’m hoping they keep moving forward.
Watch for our review of Immoral Origins and/or follow Lee on Twitter @LeeMatthewG. Try Immoral Origins via the link below.