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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

An Interview with Robert W. Walker


When Myshelf sent me a copy of Robert W. Walker’s City of the Absent to review, I was looking for a traditional murder mystery. I had read some of Walker’s earlier work, specifically the “Instinct” series and had enjoyed his style. But this book was very different and I just had to find out why.

So I decided to ask Mr. Walker what brought about the change and the result became the following interview.

To learn more about this interesting author you can visit:

A review of Robert W. Walker’s City of the Absent will appear in the February edition of

Here goes…

Dennis Collins: You’ve been writing mysteries for quite some time. How did you get started?

Robert W. Walker: I turn sixty in a year, and I began writing to impress my teachers in junior high, did some terrible short stories in 7th grade but found I liked getting a “rise” out of people from mere words on paper. During my sophomore-junior year at Wells High School in Chicago, I embarked on writing a “sequel” to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn out of anger upon learning Twain had not written a sequel. So I have been writing series and sequels ever since. By the way, Daniel Webster Jackson & The Wrongway Railroad for 12 and up was the result and while it took me many years to sell it, the manuscript did get me entry into Northwestern University as a freshman from inner-city Chicago.


Dennis: How many books have you written?

Robert: I have written a number more than I have published so a few scripts are sitting on my shelf, am working on three separate projects at the moment, so it may seem I have wavered on this number. Forty-four is a safe number if you count my E-book reprints. Straight titles published in original form and the number is closer to thirty-six. If you count my Japanese editions, add fifteen. Three other reprints in Great Britain. So the answer “depends” as they say. I am trying to catch the number of published novels up to my age.


Dennis: Would you classify any of your series as your favorite?

Robertr: My trilogy of books in the City series – City for Ransom, Shadows in White City, and City of the Absent are the novels I believe everything else in my career have wanted to lead me to do. I loved doing the Instinct Series, loved the Edge Series, and in fact, it is hard to choose favorites, but I am definitely most proud of the City series, yeah.


Dennis: After so many mysteries set in contemporary times, what made you want to tackle an historical mystery?

Robert: Aside from having done the forensics\serial killer chase novels for twenty years, I had this idea kicking around in the back of my mind since the 80’s that it would be fascinating to create a detective like Inspector Alastair Ransom as a kind of Dirty Harry of his time and place (Chicago circa 1893), who had very little scientific police work but who in fact had to rely on pseudo-scientific methods to solve crimes along with his common sense, street sense, interrogation techniques and the fear factor. I asked myself, “What did cops do at a time when animal and human blood still had not been distinguished; a time without DNA and forensics as we know it.” The question and the time period bugged me until I sat down and did the research and the writing. The series was, by the way, rejected by every major publisher and many a smaller one. Harper was the only one willing to take a chance on my leap from one genre to another.


Dennis: Will there be more in this series?

Robert: Tough question to answer. Probably not. The series is like a new TV program in search of an audience. Sadly, so far, that audience has not been forthcoming, and it is a business now more than ever, and sometimes even when you build it, they “don’t” come. I am hoping this will turn around, of course, as I had hoped to continue the series until Alastair is found in 1914 boarding the Titanic. So the short answer is no unless lightning strikes or unless another publisher is interested in picking up the series (which is unlikely).


Dennis: Is there a particular author who you admire or who inspired you?

Robert: As you might expect, Mark Twain was my spiritual mentor, and writing about crime and injustice pretty much kept me out of crime and trouble growing up Chicago. I loved the classics from the Beowulf and the Bronte sisters to Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch—the best in horror. I loved anything supernatural, weird, and bizarre as well as a good coming of age story. Loved Dumas, Poe, Hawthorne, and I am enamored of Martin Cruz Smith, Dean R. Koontz, Dick Francis, J.A. Konrath, Barb D’Amato, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scotolini, Raymond Benson, Stephen King, Shane Gericke, Marcus Sakey, and too many to enumerate. But my main inspiration came of reading all of Mark Twain and several biographies and his autobiography.


Dennis: What do you do when you’re not writing?

Robert: I am typically trying to make a living (insert laugh track here). Making a living solely on writing is a near impossibility; it is done by teaching and raking in a steady paycheck. Yes, after all these years and published works, I still hold onto my day job. I also do book editing\doctoring on the side. For fun I love to travel, play tennis when I can, walk the dog, read, read, read and do a lot of research in preparation for the next novel. I have been accused of being a doctor thanks to the amount of research I do.


Dennis: This is your space to say anything you wish.

Robert: (Singing) This is my country, land of my birth…OK, just kidding. My space, huh? I would add that my strongest and most sincere reviews, whether from the Chicago Tribune or from Ken Bruen, have come as a result of the City series. This has made me proud and vindicated (recall EVERY publisher in New York and Great Britain with any advance monies rejected the series). Not overstating it to say that when my then agent pleaded with me to drop it, I found a lifeline for the series thanks to one brave editor at Harper. Given its critical acclaim, I am glad that I attempted to write a page-turner that while commercial was also literary in nature—in the nature of the kinds of books I read as a kid. I hope it will be the kind of series that is memorable for the reader and will have some purchase in the future. I believe anyone who meets Inspector Ransom and Dr. James Phineas Tewes and the Tewes “clan” will not soon forget them or Chicago during the World’s Fair as it is depicted here—a character in and of itself—both city and fair.


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