Former attorney Chuck Greaves is the award-winning author of four books in the Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries. Writing as C. Joseph Greaves, he has also authored three standalone literary fiction novels. His newest MacTaggart release, The Chimera Club (Tallow Lane Books, May 2022), presents the newest case for main character Jack who one reviewer calls “a man with the talents and ethics of Clarence Darrow combined with the charm and mischief of Jack Sparrow.” You’ll find Chuck at ChuckGreaves.com, on Facebook, and on his Amazon author page. Read more about Chuck’s writing in his 2016 and 2019 interviews for SouthWest Writers.
What is your elevator pitch for The Chimera Club?
When film producer Ari Goldstone is murdered in Los Angeles, the DNA evidence points to only one possible suspect: disgraced financier Jimmy Kwan. Except that Kwan was seven thousand miles away in Hong Kong on the night of the murder. Hired by Kwan’s daughter to defend her father, attorney Jack MacTaggart must first solve an even more urgent mystery – how to stay alive long enough to bring the real killer to justice.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
As a former L.A. trial lawyer, the procedural aspects of writing a legal thriller like The Chimera Club come naturally and don’t usually require much in the way of research on my part. This novel, however, required quite a bit of research into DNA evidence, how it works, and how it might be challenged. Then, of course, came the secondary challenge of presenting that information to the reader in a way that’s both understandable and compelling, all without slowing the story’s forward momentum.
Tell us how the book came together.
Unlike most of my novels – this is number seven – this one began with a very high-concept ending that, unfortunately, I can’t really describe here without ruining the surprise. Suffice it to say that, with that ending in mind, the writing process involved creating compelling characters and confecting a propulsive plot that would lead readers to that inevitable conclusion. For me, this was the opposite of how I usually work. In most of my MacTaggart novels – this is the fourth – I begin with a milieu into which I toss Jack and follow along with him as he muddles his way to an ending that I might not necessarily know myself until we get there, together. In the case of The Chimera Club, it took me two years to arrive, but I always knew where I was heading.
With this fourth novel in the Jack MacTaggart series, did your protagonist still surprise you as you wrote his story? How would Jack’s friends describe him? How about his enemies?
Jack is such a likeable guy that I think even his enemies would have to concede that he’s pretty good company. Good for a laugh, in any event. I’m not sure it surprised me, but Jack definitely falls in love this time around, with his client’s daughter, a former fashion model who, when the story opens, owns and operates the hottest nightclub in L.A. Jack usually maintains a certain emotional distance from the women in his life – that’s why he’s still single in his early forties – but this time he falls head-over-heels. Which in crime fiction is rarely a good idea.
When did you know Jack was a strong enough character to carry a series?
From the jump. When we sold the debut novel Hush Money to St. Martin’s Minotaur, they recognized Jack as a strong series character, and we never had to pitch them. Which is a good thing because Jack is basically me – or a smarter, funnier, better-looking version of me – and I’d hate to be writing anyone else.
What is the main setting of The Chimera Club, and why is it the best place for the story to unfold?
Great question because, as I mentioned earlier, I started with an ending and could have set the story literally anywhere. Well, anywhere in L.A., given Jack’s backstory and history. Why I chose Chinatown is a bit of a mystery even to me – how do these things happen, anyway? Maybe blame Jake Gittes. I guess it began with Jack’s love interest, a Eurasian beauty whose father, Jack’s client, is a disgraced hedge fund manager known, since his conviction a decade earlier, as the Chinese Bernie Madoff. I needed Jimmy Kwan to be a felon because, for the story to work, his DNA had to be on file with the authorities when film producer Ari Goldstone is murdered in Los Angeles. And one thing led to another, as these things will do.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Returning to Jack. The first three MacTaggart novels – Hush Money (2012), Green-eyed Lady (2013), and The Last Heir (2014) – are now eight years old. In the interim, writing as C. Joseph Greaves, I expanded into literary fiction with my titles Tom & Lucky (Bloomsbury), a Wall Street Journal “Best Books of 2015” selection and a finalist for the Harper Lee Prize, and Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House), which was the six-city “Four Corners/One Book” community reading selection for 2019-2020. So returning to Jack, my first-ever literary creation, was its own reward.
You began your fiction writing career later in life. What did your mature self bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
I don’t think I could’ve written a credible legal thriller without having practiced law for as long as I did. Not, at least, without a lot of research and effort (kudos here to Michael Connelly). So there’s that. Also, I like to think Jack brings a certain world-weary philosophy to the MacTaggart novels, and those calluses are earned. Not to mention the discipline required to write seven novels in fifteen years. And finally, fairly or not, the writing life is infinitely more accessible to those with some savings in the bank, at least at the outset.
In your SWW 2016 interview, you mentioned the possibility of writing a “madcap caper novel” with author Deborah Coonts using her Lucky O’Toole character and your Jack MacTaggart. Have you two made progress on the book? And in your 2019 interview you talked about collaborating with a TV director on a possible cable series set in the Southwest. How is that project coming along?
Funny, I ran into Deb not long ago, up in Crested Butte, Colorado in October, when we both were speakers at their annual crime writers’ conference. Unfortunately, the Jack MacTaggart-Lucky O’Toole mashup never got off the ground, although I still think it would be fun to write, since we have similar senses of humor (which is to say, offbeat). The TV pilot, on the other hand, did come to fruition. Director Felix Alcala (ER, The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Madam Secretary, etc.) and I raised around $700K to film the pilot episode from my original script. We shot it in 2020, mostly in Mancos, Colorado, during the worst of the Covid pandemic (fun!), and are still looking for a distributor. If you think traditional publishing is a tough gig, try Hollywood. It’s been a real slog.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Only that The Chimera Club, the fourth installment in my Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, is now available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, wherever books are sold. Oh, and it’s a perfect beach read. “MacTaggart is full of awesome.” – Library Journal
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.