The Borzoi Killings: A Conversation with Paul Batista
I recently had a chance to preview the latest legal thriller by Paul Batista and ask the New York Times bestselling author a few questions.
The Borzoi Killings will be out in November.
TGD: What made you turn from the coutrtroom to writing?
PB: Trials are theatrical, creative experiences. Writing, too, is the same kind of experience. Over the years I learned in the fast interplay of a major trial the need for quick, instinctive reflexes.
Writing, too, requires creativity, spontaneity and fast instincts. The major difference is that the act of writing is done in isolation, as it must be. But at least for me the process of writing offers the same need as a trial to concentrate on a basic rule: Expect the unexpected.
In fact, I still practice law and try cases. I know many full-time writers who spend hours and hours each day in a room where they have few or no interactions with other people. That’s not for me. As a still active lawyer, I’m constantly surrounded by and interacting with a range of people and their often astounding stories. I draw from that exposure when I take the time, as I do every day, to enter the interior world where my fiction-writing takes place. So I have not reached the point where I’ve totally abandoned the courtroom for writing. One feeds the other.
TGD: Mission accomplished. Even when you’ve been warned there’s going to be a surprise ending, you don’t see it coming. I went back to certain sections to see if I missed clues. And I did, starting with the first chapter. Message to the reader is that we see and believe what we choose. Was there an aspect of human nature you were actively exploring?
PB: It certainly was. We are always asking ourselves in life – or let me say I am always asking myself – what is it that I missed about this man’s or woman’s behavior that should have given me some clue or foresight as to why the person ultimately did or failed to do something that was surprising.
The Borzoi Killings is obviously meant to be a “thriller.” That means surprise is at its core. Yet in a sense every book worth reading is a thriller, a series of clues, suggestions, foreshadowings, connections.
The Borzoi Killings has multiple surprises, not just the ending at which the unexpected grabs the reader’s attention. In a sense, a totally unexpected ending is just an anomaly unless a writer has laid out clues and secrets along the way. I plotted The Borzoi Killings carefully because in real life the seeds of real life outcomes for real people are scattered throughout the events of their lives.
TGD: This thriller lends itself perfectly to the screen. Do you prefer Antonio Banderas or Benicio del Toro? Any other actors in mind?
PB: Sure, myself thirty years ago! I’m as Latin as Juan Suarez, one of the main characters, and as Banderas and Benicio.
But Benecio would be my choice. Juan, an “illegal” immigrant, is not only exceptionally handsome, as are both Banderas and Benicio. But Benecio conveys the same range of charms, innocence, mystery and moods that Juan Suarez has. Benecio has that enigmatic range that I tried to endow Juan Suarez with.
TGD: Characters seem to play against and to stereotypes. Was that intentional?
PB: No. And do you want to know why? There are no stereotypes. Take the billionaire who is brutally murdered in the first chapter. In those first pages he is or appears to be the stereotypical hedge fund billionaire. Vast fortune, even vaster ego. Yet, as the story and trial unfold, we learn so much more about him: a genuine philanthropist with compassion for the scorned immigrant community of gardeners and day laborers in the Hamptons but also a man with unexpected, uncontrollable sexual impulses and a secret drug addiction that may, or may not, have played a role in his murder.
I’ll concede that there may be one stereotype: a playboy former U.S. Senator who plays off – as well as plays with – the complex widow of the slain billionaire. He is in many ways the unknown focus of the Carly Simon song You’re So Vain.
TGD: Do you think Juan is evil?
PB: Juan Suarez, of course, is the handsome, charismatic “illegal” immigrant who worked for the murdered billionaire and his wife, the complicated Joan Richardson. If I told you whether I thought Juan Suarez was evil, I’d have to kill you. Let’s just say he’s a man of many parts, all of which he plays convincingly.
TGD: Anything you’d like the readers of The Georgetown Dish to know about your passion for the law and how it plays out in real life drama?
PB: When I came out of an Ivy League law school after a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War, I was fortunate enough to get one of those plum jobs at a big Wall Street law firm. It was fortunate because I quickly became bored with contract documents and corporate law and was still young enough to venture out into where the real drama of the law is. And that’s the defense of men and women accused of crimes.
Possibly as a result of my experiences in the Army, I’ve always had a fascination with how men and women react to danger. In my practice, it’s the danger of scorn, ruin and imprisonment. Some people react with fear, confusion, anger; others react with what Hemingway defined as courage – grace under pressure. I feel passionate about the people I’ve represented in the law – both the rogues and the saints and the range of others arrayed along those extremes. I have the same passion about my fictional characters. If I didn’t have that passion about those fictional characters and how their lives turn out, I’d spend my time at the movies instead.