Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mike Doogan's "Lost Angel"

Mike Doogan has been a Teamster, a janitor, a baggage handler, a mailroom flunky, a writing teacher and a legislative aide, but worked for most of his adult life as a journalist and writer. For 14 years, he was a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. He is the author of three books about Alaska, and editor of a collection of essays on life there. He is currently serving in the Alaska House of Representatives.

And he writes mystery novels. His mystery writing has won Mike the Robert L. Fish Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Spotted Owl Award from the Friends of Mystery. His first novel, Lost Angel, has been nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. His second, Capitol Offense, is due in August. Both feature Detective Nik Kane.

Here Doogan's explains which actor would have best captured Nik Kane on the big screen:
Maybe it’s that modern actors all seem too short. Or maybe they don’t have Nik Kane’s edge. Whatever. When I think about who should play the battered, violent, uncertain hero – if that’s the right word – of Lost Angel and Capitol Offense, the actor who comes to mind is Robert Mitchum.

Mitchum, who died in 1997 at the age of 79, was the right size – a shade over 6 feet – and lived in Nik Kane’s violent, shady world on screen as an actor in film noir from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s. His best-known roles were as villains – Max Cady in Cape Fear (based on a crackerjack book by the prolific John D. MacDonald) and Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (adapted from the novel by Davis Grubb) – but he played his share of heroes, like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely and The Big Sleep. He would have been the right age about the time he made The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a great book (by George V. Higgins) that was made into one of the best crime movies ever.

Two things stand out for me when I think of Mitchum as an actor. One is the sense you had that bad things are about to happen around him. The other is that, no matter what happens, he’ll keep going. He might get battered and bloodied, but he’ll keep going. Those are really Nik Kane’s defining characteristics, too.

I also like Mitchum’s attitude toward his work.

"Listen,” he once said when asked about his acting talent, “I got three expressions: looking left, looking right and looking straight ahead."

He didn’t think of himself as a big star or an acting genius. What he did was show up and work, making more than 100 movies in a career that began in the 1940s and ended in the 1990s.

I think of Nik Kane that way, too. Not as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, but as an updated version of Dashiell Hammett’s nameless Continental Op. Nik has a personal life that the Op never had, but they are both straight ahead, let’s-try-this-and-see-what-happens types, not the witty, brainy, urbane people you never meet outside of books.

I see myself as a writer that way, too. Not as a genius, but as someone who shows up and works. The best advice I ever heard about writing came from Dorothy Parker: “The art of writing is the art of applying your ass to a chair.” It’s no wonder I like Mitchum’s style.

So give me Robert Mitchum, and you can keep the (surprisingly short) stars of today. When I think of Nik as I write, Mitchum is who I see in my head, and who I hope you see on the page.
Read more about Mike Doogan and his writing, including excerpts from Lost Angel and Capitol Offense, at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue