Simon Wood

Book of the Month: When the Chips Are Down

Lowlifes centers on a washed up cop investigating the murder of a homeless man. When my collaborator moviemaker, Robert Pratten, approached me with the idea of a crime story set in the homeless community, it immediately appealed to my sensibilities. Regardless of your opinions regarding the homeless, the idea of becoming homeless is a scary thought and in these dire economic times, it’s something that could happen to any of us. That’s the great appeal of Lowlifes to me. That a calamity such as homelessness could strike any one of us.

It’s very easy to judge others and their decisions, but I believe we walk a fine line in our daily lives. I’ve spoken to book clubs where readers have remarked that they would never find themselves in the predicaments that some of my characters find themselves in. I say you just haven’t found yourself in awkward predicaments—yet. Circumstances bigger and meaner can strike us at any time and wreck our lives. Homelessness could be the result, but so could jail, divorce, loss and a host of other things. The upshot is that our lives can be upended at any moment.

So, when Robert presented me with a brief outline for the book, there were certain things I wanted to have in the story. The protagonist is San Francisco PD detective, Larry Hayes. He’s lost his wife and daughter to divorce. He’s lost his self control to a painkiller addiction picked up from an on-the-job injury. And he’ll lose his career if he doesn’t get a handle on his life. It could be argued that Larry has fallen off the tightrope, but for me, he hasn’t. He stands on the precipice. His situation can get a whole hell of a lot worse. He can end up living on the streets like the man whose murder he’s investigating or he can take a grip on his life and turn it around. Maybe sifting through an already ruined life reflected back at him will be the thing to help Larry find his balance and keep from falling.

I don’t necessarily condone the decisions that Larry Hayes has made when readers meet him on page one, but I sympathize. I don’t believe any of us can say we wouldn’t allow ourselves to end up in Larry’s position. Life’s rug can be yanked out from under us at any time. Luck, timing and due diligence ensures that it doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes, luck plays against us and it all goes wrong in a hurry.

So let Larry Hayes’ story be a warning to us all that the ground under our feet isn’t as stable as we take for granted.

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