I’m delighted to welcome A. J. Devlin to Cyber Cafe!
We met at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver and bonded immediately over the movie business. My daughter is a VFX producer in Montreal and AJ spent many years in Hollywood working as a screenwriter.
AJ grew up in Greater Vancouver and moved to Southern California to earn two degrees in screenwriting. Luckily for Canadian crime fiction, he moved back home to Port Moody, BC, where he now lives with his wife and two children and writes full-time.
Cobra Clutch, AJ’s first book in the “Hammerhead” Jed professional wrestling mystery-comedy series, was released in spring 2018. It was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and won the 2019 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best First Novel.
The sequel, Rolling Thunder, was released in spring 2020 and was featured in the Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Globe and Mail, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal Reviews, as well as on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.
The third book in the series, Five Moves of Doom, was published by NeWest Press on September 15th, 2022. Look for my review here on Eat This Book, Monday, October 3rd. (Spoiler alert – it’s terrific!)
Welcome to Cyber Cafe, AJ. You worked many years as a screenwriter. How did you turn to crime…fiction?
I grew up loving films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and The Last Boy Scout and remember vividly reading The Silence of the Lambs (at probably too young of an age), so crime stories always captivated me.
When I was living in Southern California earning my BFA and MFA in Screenwriting from Chapman University and the American Film Institute Conservatory, I studied closely under my mentor and friend, Academy-Award nominated screenwriter and novelist Leonard Schrader. He also shared the same passions and planted the seed that crafting crime fiction wasn’t that dissimilar from structuring screenplays, but it wasn’t until I moved home, got married, and became a father that I finally took a break from writing scripts and tried my hand at a mystery novel.
Why set your thrillers in the world of wrestling? How did your hero, Hammerhead Jed, appear in your imagination?
As I immersed myself in crime fiction, especially during my college years, I began exploring sub-genres, and one of my favorites was the athlete-detective since I grew up very much into sports. My father was a star basketball player for Simon Fraser University and later the Canadian Men’s National team, having competed in the 76 Olympics. So, it’s safe to say athletics factored heavily into my childhood.
I also spent my youth as a rabid fan of professional wrestling, enjoying the over-the-top feats of strength and agility combined with the in-ring panache of the squared circle. After reading about boxer-detectives, basketball-player sleuths, and surfer PIs, it occurred to me that, to the best of my knowledge, no one had cooked up a grappling gumshoe. I saw that as an opportunity to draw upon my knowledge and experience while hopefully providing a series character who was a little unique.
You write terrific fight scenes. How do you research the moves?
Thank you! I definitely prioritize the choreography of such scenes. I figure it’s likely that a guy with the moniker of “Hammerhead” Jed could handle himself in a scrap, and like me he has trained in freestyle wrestling and Judo. I definitely researched a lot about combat and beefed up his skill set by giving Jed experience with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I also wanted him to have a formidable striking ability; hence his proficiency in Krav Maga and other such martial arts. But at his core Jed is definitely a “grappler,” and his identity as a fighter is examined in Five Moves of Doom.
I especially love your colorful minor characters like Jed’s informant, Sykes, the bookie. Now Sykes is into goat yoga? Why goat yoga??
I love the juxtaposition of a dapper, well-manicured, and upscale gentleman like Sykes having a vested interest in unusual or atypical business ventures. He was originally conceived as a one-and-done character for Rolling Thunder, but my editor encouraged me to bring him back for Five Moves of Doom.
This now seems like a no-brainer, especially given what a breath of fresh air I find Sykes to be when he appears. It’s also been fun to explore the evolution of Sykes’ affinity for “Hammerhead” Jed and how despite being so different, these two men have become unlikely allies with great respect for one another.
My mom (who I dedicated this threequel to alongside my wife) was the person who started keeping an eye out for quirky and offbeat sports and activities as my series progressed. She suggested goat yoga could be something fun to use in my future books. Coincidentally at the time, I had started exploring hybrid-yoga myself through the DDP Yoga Program (created by professional wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer, Diamond Dallas Page) as a way to increase my own functional strength in an effort to keep up with my kids. Both ideas dove-tailed for Five Moves of Doom.
In Rolling Thunder, Sykes is into dachshund racing. Is that real, too?
100%! Every year at the Hastings Racecourse there are the Annual Wiener Dog Racing Championships, sponsored by the venue itself and Schneiders Premium Meats. I may have taken a few creative liberties in Rolling Thunder, but make no mistake, competitive dachshund racing is the real deal and serious stuff with prize money at stake.
Your books are a terrific blend of comedy and violence. Sometimes you take us to very dark places, too. What advice do you give emerging writers on keeping the balance right?
That’s high praise and I’m much obliged! And I think you pose an excellent question. For me personally, particularly for this series, I use sports entertainment itself as a kind of North Star. Pro-wrestling can be so goofy and light-hearted at times, but many of the behind-the-scenes stories are the opposite, rife with tales of addiction, tragedy, and even murder. I also believe that humor can be an essential coping mechanism in times of great grief or adversity. I like to think Jed’s wisecracking nature helps balance out the trouble his cases bring not only for himself but also the reader.
What’s next for Hammerhead Jed?
More adventures are definitely the plan! Hammerhead Jed was always conceived as a series protagonist uniquely suited for unusual investigations. I’m looking forward to perhaps taking him away from athletic-centric mysteries and having him delve into more unique subcultures in future stories, something that is touched upon in a subplot in Rolling Thunder.
And in addition to more “Hammerhead” Jed shenanigans, I’m also flirting with ideas for spinoffs and standalone stories, which could be a nice change of pace. But I certainly won’t be forgetting about my Piledriving PI anytime soon as he’s just too much fun to write and has been awfully good to me.
More importantly, what’s next for AJ Devlin? Do tell us about your upcoming podcasts and author appearances.
I’m excited to be back promoting the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedies in person for sure, and have numerous author events, wrestling and MMA shows, and Fan Expos where I will be appearing. You can follow what I’m up to both in person and online at my website https://ajdevlin.com and / or on my social media under the same handle @ajdevlinauthor.
Catch AJ at upcoming events here:
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!
In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.
Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.
Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.