Miles Corwin has always had a knack for describing how cops and criminals think, talk and act. It’s an ability that served him well throughout his 20 years as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and it set him up well in his second career as the author of two nonfiction books about the LAPD and another about Los Angeles school students struggling to achieve against immense societal odds.
Now he’s taken the plunge into crafting his first novel, “Kind of Blue,” which returns him to the gritty world of the LAPD through the eyes of a detective named Ash Levine. Levine is called back from a stress-induced early retirement in order to solve the murder of another ex-cop, and in jumping into the investigation as well as an exploration into the murder of a former witness he puts not only his life but his sanity at risk.
“There’s no single case that I covered that inspired the novel, but more the way cops talk and think and what motivates them,” says Corwin. “I was immersed in that and really tried to make the book realistic. It was just time for this novel, because I long had thoughts I wanted to talk about, about crime, consequences and what happens to people when crime shatters their lives.”
Indeed, Corwin speaks passionately about the way that much of contemporary crime novels and films tend to glamorize the lives of their criminal characters. He was determined to correct that in his novel, a decision that lends the book key levels of extra grit and realism.
“I think a lot of mystery fiction and a lot of Hollywood write a lot about crime and violence,” says Corwin. “Everything Hollywood writes is about violence, but not so much about suffering. I thought it would be interesting to represent that — the real consequences of crime on people. It’s all about violence, not about suffering, and in real crime there’s a lot of suffering. That’s kind of immoral. It’s like a pornography of violence.”
Corwin derived the inspiration for the novel from the year he spent researching his last nonfiction book, “Homicide Special.” He took two sets of notes throughout the process, one filled with facts for the nonfiction work, and one filled with his own original thoughts about what he was experiencing.
Making his protagonist a Jewish cop gave “Kind of Blue” another intriguing twist, because as Corwin himself notes, “there’s not a lot of Jewish cops out there.” Corwin had met a Jewish LA policeman while working on the novel and, after speaking with him, realized that “since most Jewish parents want their kids to be professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants, it creates another level of conflict with his family and with the department.”
Yet it was Corwin’s childhood, during which he lived in downtown LA’s Rosslyn Hotel, that initially shaped his ability to draw out and recount the stories of people with hardscrabble lives. Corwin’s grandfather had designed and owned the hotel, which now sits near Skid Row, and the author uses those memories to colorfully depict the neighborhood around it since his lead character lives in a loft in the area.
Corwin graduated from UC Santa Barbara before earning his master’s degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Now a longtime resident of Altadena, he’s achieved a coveted sense of confidence in his work that nonetheless was challenged by his detour into fiction writing.
“It was a lot harder than I thought to do fiction,” says Corwin. “It was really learning a whole new job. I spent my career in nonfiction by writing 20 years with the LA Times, yet it took eight rewrites before I felt I got this right. It’s a long learning process. When you’re writing nonfiction, your story’s already built in. The narrative arc is there and it’s already challenging, but thankfully at least developing my characters for the novel was easy.”
Miles Corwin will discuss and sign “Kind of Blue” at 7 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.