We are especially excited for the upcoming relaunch of Anthony Flacco’s The Last Nightingale. Flacco has created a unique tale set during the Gilded Age in San Francisco that introduces honest police detective, Sergeant Randall Blackburn, and his unlikely partner, twelve-year old orphan Shane Nightingale. We talked with Flacco about the inspiration behind the setting, characters, and plot, as well as what he loves about his job.
SRP: The Last Nightingale is set in San Francisco in 1906 after the Great Earthquake. What made you pick that place and that time period?
Anthony: I have always thought San Francisco was the most physically beautiful city in America (just my opinion, folks, I don’t want to fight about it), and the atmosphere of fog seemed ideal for a mystery. I chose the Great Earthquake and Fires because it remains the most significant event in that city’s history today.
SRP: This plot is incredibly unique—an orphan who witnessed a brutal murder teams up with a police officer to hunt down a serial killer. How did you create this plot and unlikely duo?
Anthony: The victimization of children by unfeeling adults is a theme in my work. It has so many aspects to it, there are as many variations as there are children cowering in a corner at this very moment, desperately hoping not to hear adult footsteps approaching. One book could never cover it all.
SRP: Which came first—the plot, the setting, or the characters?
Anthony: For this book, it was the setting first as I mentioned above, but the plot and characters came out together and are interdependent. I spent days walking around the city checking out potential locations, all of which helped to stitch the fiction to fact, but by then I already had the general plot and characters in mind. Refinement of concept came in the writing of the first draft.
SRP: What was the most exciting part of this book to write?
Anthony: The same answer holds true for each book in this series: I love, love, love to reconcile historical fact with acknowledged fiction, but restrict the process to using all available facts and only employing fiction where the facts have holes in them. The most enjoyable part of that process is stitching the two while attempting to disguise the seams.
SRP: Would you get along with Sergeant Randall Blackburn?
Anthony: I sure hope so. I might strike him as a bit artsy-fartsy, but I would hate to ever miss an opportunity to befriend someone with a moral and ethical stance like his. I believe in the concept that if we want to be better people, we should hang out with better people. And if you need a definition of “better people,” look for the ones who try to build up others instead of picking at them and tearing them down.
On that basis, I would try hard to be a friend to Randall Blackburn. His combination of humility and capability is inspiring to me. Plus the man adopted two homeless orphans as a thirty-five year-old bachelor, not because it was something he craved, or something he had any idea of how to do. His pain and empathy for those children—his fears of the future they faced alone in the world—were enough to overcome his own fears that he had no idea what the hell he was getting into. He did it anyway.
Here is something from recent news events, for what it’s worth: Ukrainian President Zelensky famously said, when offered a government plane to fly to safety from advancing Russian forces, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.”
We would have heard the same response from Randall Blackburn.
SRP: This is the first in The Nightingale Detective Series. Can you tell us a bit about what happens in the following books and what to expect from new releases?
Anthony: My theme of forcing innocent children into the path of terrible human beings comes from my own cry of pain that such things exist to be written about in the first place. It is a statement of both innocence and corruption meant to launch an investigation into whether the goodness threatened by corruption can prevail, and in ways readers can and will accept.
My worldview, namely that optimism is smarter than defeatism, causes me to write plots showing ways in which such people find recovery. Not happy-ever-after stuff, but a realization of inner strength which we can take away, as readers, and which we can leave them feeling content that if they were real, they would use it to forge well in their lives. As for the worst of the perpetrators, most of them will be caught, or die in the process of carrying out their crimes. But never all of them. Some will get away because in life some get away. I will not insult a reader’s intelligence by telling a story wherein evil is forever vanquished. The best we can ever do is to beat it back to invisible embers left glowing beneath a forest fire we hope to have extinguished .
Evil in my stories will always be represented by those embers. The implied—but unspoken—message carried by the steadfast traits of the Protagonists will always be that those traits not only create their victories, but are the same as those we carry, offering a hopeful challenge.
SRP: What are you working on now?
Anthony: Book #4 of the series. This one follows the pattern of weaving fiction into fact and is concerned with international crime, using a hidden organization of ostensibly law-abiding people that is far larger than anything the general public has ever heard about. So I am currently battling away on behalf of our Protagonists, also introducing a new one whom I am hopeful our readers will love.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Anthony: I just finished The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I’m a fan. I can only speculate he has an army of researchers to deploy like a swarm of flying monkeys who are not permitted to come home for dinner unless they bring along a validated fact. Because otherwise, you know, come on.
SRP: What’s your favorite part of being an author?
Anthony: Oh, no contest, it is the opportunity to read and think and write for as many hours of the day and night as energy will permit. The quiet. A life free of Muzak beamed down from overhead speakers. My work constantly pushes me into the virtual company of intelligent people who have challenging thoughts to offer and sometimes delightful ways of expressing them. It’s a great way to turn an office into a gymnasium.
The Last Nightingale releases tomorrow, March 15. Pre-order your copy today!