Carl Filbrich taught writing at Duke University and Kenyon College before deciding he was not cut out for an academic career. After a ten-year stint in the corporate world, he started his own business delivering training programs for New York state agencies and a public employees union.
In your new mystery, What Falls Away, Mike Ramsey undertakes a difficult and dangerous task -- discovering who killed his old lover Gina Robson. Why does Mike care so much about what happened to a woman he hasn't seen in years?
When I was writing this book, I kept thinking about the famous line from William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Mike has moved on from his relationship with Gina. He's now deeply in love with another woman, Marie. But that doesn't mean he has forgotten about Gina. His relationship with her is part of the person he has become.
What Falls Away takes place in the weeks before Christmas. Why did you choose that time of year?
I chose that time of year mainly because of the weather. Winter in the Northeast creates some challenging complications for my characters -- slippery sidewalks and parking lots, delayed flights, dangerous driving conditions. And of course the holiday season often stirs up powerful feelings about the past, some bittersweet.
Is Mike concerned that his preoccupation with the past might distract him from what is important in the present, especially his relationship with Marie?
Yes, he is aware of that, but feels that he cannot move on in his life until he solves the mystery surrounding Gina's murder. And Marie understands what Mike is going through because she also has an emotional attachment with an old lover.
We have been talking about Mike's investigation in What Falls Away as a kind of personal quest, but it's more than that, isn't it?
Yes, his investigation starts out as a personal quest, but it quickly grows more complicated. He soon learns that Gina's murder was part of a complex conspiracy -- a conspiracy that he will have to unravel if he is going to survive.
What Falls Away is the second Mike Ramsey novel. The first mystery in the series, No One’s Daughter, is about the disappearance of a young woman who was arrested for doing something few people would consider a crime: kissing another woman in public. Do you think that something like that might actually happen?
It did happen in Hawaii. Two women were arrested for kissing in a supermarket in 2016. They sued the city of Honolulu and eventually won an $80,000 settlement. In my novel, two women are arrested under similar circumstances and become instantly famous on the internet. Then one of them disappears. Mike Ramsey takes on the task of finding her.
Is Mike Ramsey a crusader for gay rights?
No, he just thinks that no one has the right to tell someone else who they should or shouldn’t love. Mike accepts the job of finding the missing woman mainly because he needs a new direction in life. He needs something meaningful to do.
Your novel is set in Albany, New York. Why did you choose Albany?
I’ve lived in the Albany area for the last forty years. The city has a lot to offer, but it is often overshadowed by the much larger city seventy miles to the south. Some Albany residents claim they can’t see the appeal of New York City, but not Mike Ramsey. Mike loves the crowds, the traffic, the barely controlled chaos. Sometimes he goes down there for the day, just to walk around and soak up the restless energy of the place. Sometimes I do that too.
No One’s Daughter is a traditional mystery, a type of story that never seems to go out of style. How do you account for the continuing popularity of the genre?
Lawrence Block, one of the great mystery writers of the last fifty years, said that people love mysteries because mysteries tell a story. So many “important” and “serious” novels today are not really stories. They’re psychological studies or ruminations on contemporary culture or just cobbled-together bits of pretty writing. But people still like stories, and that’s what they get with traditional mysteries.
Who do you think will enjoy No One’s Daughter?
Anyone with a pulse. No, seriously, I think No One’s Daughter will appeal to anyone who enjoys spending a few hours with a good-natured amateur sleuth trying to untangle a web of evasions and lies.
Let’s talk about The Heavenly Casino, your novel set in Las Vegas. Many mystery writers portray Las Vegas as a superficial, soulless place, but you seem to have a more positive view. What do you think of Las Vegas?
I love Las Vegas. Yes, I know that it glorifies two of the worst elements in our culture—recklessness and self-indulgence. But it also provides a kind of safety valve that relieves some of the pressure built up by all the passions and desires churning just below the surface of modern life.
For fifty weeks a year, most of us work hard, play by the rules, and do what’s expected of us. We need a place to cut loose and have a good time without worrying about other people’s expectations. Las Vegas is that place.
So you think of Las Vegas as a kind of sandbox for adults?
Something like that. It’s a city that lets you be as carefree and dissolute as you choose to be, as long as you don’t spoil the party for others. Of course most visitors to Las Vegas don’t behave badly at all. They gamble a little, eat and drink to their hearts’ content, and maybe take in a show or two. In other words, they just have a good time.
Gambling, the foundation of the economy in Las Vegas, is inherently unproductive. Isn’t it strange for a city’s livelihood to depend on an industry that produces nothing?
Well, I would say the economy of Las Vegas is based on entertainment, not gambling. Gambling is just a form of entertainment. And I do not believe that entertainment is not productive. It produces pleasure and enjoyment. I sometimes think that the harshest critics of Las Vegas are really Puritans at heart. They are horrified by the thought that other people might be enjoying themselves.
Some people would say that Las Vegas is a monument to vulgarity.
People who complain about vulgarity are usually snobs. They believe that their cultural pursuits are better than those of others. These folks need to realize that we don’t all spend our days reading Proust and listening to chamber music. Las Vegas may be a monument to vulgarity, but it’s also a monument to whimsy. When you walk down the Strip, you see one gigantic, outlandish structure after another. The place looks like it was designed by a gang of brilliant twelve-year-olds. What’s not to love about that?
Like Mike Ramsey, Carl lives in the Albany - Schenectady - Saratoga region of upstate New York. He is currently at work on the third Mike Ramsey novel.
Watch for that in Fall 2023!