Monday, February 25, 2013

Jake Needham, The Umbrella Man

AUTHOR:     Jake Needham
PUBLISHER:     Marshall Cavendish Int'l (print editions), and Half Penny Ltd (digital editions)

Please tell us about yourself?
I'm a lawyer who became a screenwriter through a series of accidents too unbelievable to describe. After ten years or so of writing mostly for American cable television, I realized how little I actually liked television so I thought I'd see if I could figure out how to write novels instead. I've since published six international crime thrillers that have sold several hundred thousand copies, so I guess that worked out okay for me.

Tell us your latest news?
I just published THE UMBRELLA MAN. It's my sixth novel and the second book featuring Inspector Samuel Tay of Singapore CID. Sam is a character I like a lot. He's a little lonely, a little overweight, a little grumpy, and he has a way of pissing people off, but he's a damned fine detective and a good man.

THE UMBRELLA MAN is an effort to combine an international thriller with a traditional police procedural. It's a small scale story set against a large scale background. "Jake Needham is Michael Connelly with steamed rice," the Bangkok Post said. I always try to live up to that.

When and why did you begin writing?
It was an accident, honest.  I was involved in a complicated corporate merger and ended up responsible for a very modest little Hollywood production company that was making cable TV movies. In an effort to focus the company more tightly on what I thought it could do well, I dashed off an outline of the kind of movie I wanted the company to make. A copy of my outline somehow got sent to one of the cable networks and they called up and asked me to make it for them.
Make what? I asked. That film you wrote the treatment for, they said.
And that was how I became a screenwriter…

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It took a while. It seems to me that 'writer' isn't a title you bestow on yourself. It's a status that's earned, and other people will tell you when you've earned it. I had done half a dozen movies before I stopped being embarrassed when people referred to me as a writer.

What inspired you to write your first book?
The realization that movies were boring the unholy crap out of me. I reached a point at which I couldn't stand sitting through another movie. I still can't, really. So if I wanted to keep writing, I had to find another vehicle. I had no idea whether I could figure out how to write novels or not, but I thought I'd give it a try. It's worked out pretty well.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
No. I don't do message. I write novels that I hope will engage you, interest you, and intrigue you. That's all I do, and if I can succeed at that I figure I've done enough. You can get all the messages you want from The New York Times.

Are experiences in your books based on someone you know, or events in your own life?  (Has anyone ever realized it?)
My books are well known for being drawn from real events. A lot of reviewers have even remarked on it. CNN said my books have a "ripped from the headlines" feel, and The Wall Street Journal said that "much of the fun in reading Needham's books is trying to decide how much of what is in them is based on fact and how much is the product of the author's imagination."
THE BIG MANGO was based on some odd occurrences when Saigon fell to the invading North Vietnamese in 1975; LAUNDRY MAN drew on the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce in the 90's, a bizarre financial institution that was also known as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals. A WORLD OF TROUBLE grew out of a military coup in Thailand which drove a popular prime minister into exile in Dubai and led to upheaval in the streets there; and so on.
I tell a story in the foreword to A WORLD OF TROUBLE about a retired intelligence officer who tried to get me to tell him how I had found out about a secret operation that turned up in one of my books. I explained to him that I hadn't found out about anything, that I had simply made up the events that he was talking about. I don't think he really believed me. That's the thing about writing crime thrillers set in Asia. You can't make anything up. Whatever you think you made up, one of these days someone will come up to you and tell you it really happened. Or maybe that it's about to happen.

What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?
I just finished Stephen Hunter's new entry in his Bob Lee Swagger series, THE THIRD BULLET. It's a remarkable weaving of the Kennedy assassination into a contemporary thriller. You can question whether the plot really hangs together, I suppose, but the voices of the major characters are remarkable. It's truly excellent, wholly engaging writing.

What are your current projects?
I'm just finishing a new Jack Shepherd to follow on after LAUNDRY MAN, KILLING PLATO, and A WORLD OF TROUBLE. This one is a novella called THE MACAU JOB that's about a casino robbery in Macau. I've never tried a novella before so it's something new for me.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?  If so how do you get through it?
There's no such thing as writer's block, at least not for a professional writer. Look, writing is a job.  John Gregory Dunne said that writing is manual labor of the mind, it's laying pipe. You just show up every day and do your job. Whining about so-called writer's block is something professional writers don't do.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yeah. Sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard of your choice, and do it.  I'm sick to death of people talking about writing, studying writing, analyzing writing. That's all malarkey. You DO writing. That's all there is to it.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
My print editions are published by Marshall Cavendish, a UK publisher owned by a Singaporean media group, and my digital editions are published by Half Penny Ltd, a digital publisher based in Hong Kong. Marshall Cavendish distributes my print editions in Europe, Asia, and the UK. They're not sold in either North America or Australia. My digital editions are of course sold worldwide by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and everybody else.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.

My website –

My Letters from Asia , which offer a little personal background on the places and things that appear in my novels, appear every couple of weeks and are posted online here -


The first bomb cracked the Hilton like an egg; the second gutted the lobby of the Marriott; and the third peeled the front off the Grand Hyatt. Three massive explosions, all at American hotels in the heart of the city, and all within a few horrifying seconds. Hundreds are dead and thousands are injured. Singapore is bleeding.

Inspector Samuel Tay is a senior inspector in the Special Investigation Section of Singapore CID, but he is frozen out of this investigation from the beginning. He's made serious enemies in Singapore's Internal Security Department, and he has even more enemies at the American embassy, so Tay is assigned routine cases while his colleagues join with the CIA and the FBI in a feverish search for the bombers.

Three days after the explosions, the smell of death still sticky in the city's air, Tay is sent to a run-down apartment near the Malaysian border where two children have found the body of a Caucasian male with a broken neck. Tay feels an immediate connection with the dead man, although he doesn't think he has ever seen him before.

As Tay searches the dead man's past for clues to who he was and who his killer might have been, Tay's own past begins to give up its secrets. A long-dead father he can barely remember reaches out of the grave to point to the truth about both the murdered man and the bombings. And the horror of Singapore's destruction becomes a personal horror for Samuel Tay.

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