Novelist, historian, and comic-book writer F.G. Haghenbeck is the author of The Secret Book of Frieda Kahlo, among other titles. His latest to be translated into English, Bitter Drink, won the Otra Vuelta de Tuerca award in Mexico for best mystery novel.
F.G. Haghenbeck: I decided to write a novel like the novels I love—something with a charismatic main character and the feeling of the pulp noir books that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett wrote. Also, I've always loved the culture of the '60s: the cocktails, music, and film. I knew from the beginning that the story would happen in that decade.
At that time, I was living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the writer William Reed told me a real story about John Huston: He gave golden guns with silver bullets to each actor and actress in The Night of the Iguana. He figured that when the actors wanted to kill each other, they could use these weapons. I wondered what would have happened if someone had been killed with a gun like that. The rest came to me like magic. Then I was in the middle of writing the book and I felt something was missing—an outside voice that tied it all together. I used my knowledge of mixology to create the right environment, including drinks and songs in each chapter. I loved the result and have used it in other novels since.
Q: What are the key ingredients for creating a great noir-esque detective?
FGH: The character needs to be a son of a...in many ways, but he also needs to have a quality you can fall in love with. My favorite example is Philip Marlowe. He's like a medieval knight in a raincoat with a Remington in his hand.
Q: What are the noir novels that every mystery fan should read?
FGH: For me, one name: Raymond Chandler. He is the best 20th-century American writer. Of course, you have Hemingway or Capote, but Chandler created the hardboiled dialogue that became a trademark of urban fiction from the 1940s. His first novel, The Big Sleep, is my favorite.
FGH: Ava Gardner, of course. She had dirty eyes and a really lustful smile. That's why she was called "the world's most beautiful animal." Although Richard Burton might be a better companion for a drink. He was a good drinker.