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Novelist Found Inspiration In New Jersey


Pat Foy is at the Philadelphia Flower Show when she finds out that her husband has been arrested. Pat's husband is an almost endearingly dull suburban New Jersey accountant suspected of cooking the books at his telecommunications company for a group called the High Risk Boys. "It's a Crime" is the title of Jacqueline Carey's new comic novel, a story of how Pat, a landscape designer, sets out to randomly repay some of the victims of corporate crimes. Jacqueline Carey joins us in our studio. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. JACQUELINE CAREY (Author, "It's a Crime"): It's great to be here.

SIMON: I guess it's not necessary to ask what put this sequence of events in your mind. We can just kind of thumb to the newspapers and guess between WorldCom, Enron.

Ms. CAREY: Yeah, right. The WorldCom and the Enron debacles were really big.

SIMON: Pat's husband, Frank Foy, offers at one point in a family conversation a kind of defense of his actions by saying, quote, "We may not have made the best business decisions at LinkAge," his company, "but we didn't do anything that unusual."

Ms. CAREY: When I was doing research for this...

SIMON: Well, that's I wanted to open the door and ask what kind of research you did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CAREY: When I was doing research for this, I picked out like the really cool little tidbits of crimes from a lot of different companies. Like, for instance, Frank sends out people he calls the SWAT team. You know, and all they're doing is they're looking for holes in the different smaller companies and thinking of barely legal ways to fix them. That was Enron. Postdated invoices was Lucent. When there's no reason not to make everything tidy, they're not going to make things tidy. They're going to take chances. And it's not terrible that people take chances. You just have to cut them off at the pass sometimes, I guess. But, you know, I have this other character, Lemuel Samuel, who is a mystery writer and who is another...

SIMON: A former boyfriend.

Ms. CAREY: A former boyfriend who is another person who takes a lot of risks, mainly with his own health. But, you know, he's one of these hard-drinking beat-them-up type of detectives. And I wanted to look at the way crime is in the United States. I mean, it's - on the one hand we've got WorldCom, and on the other hand we've got, you know, the sort of risk-taking behavior that makes America America. You know, they're really entwined.

SIMON: They're really entwined?

Ms. CAREY: Yeah, they are.

SIMON: Can't have one without the other entwined?

Ms. CAREY: Yeah, I mean, Pat is a good person. And she is blind to the fact that she is taking advantage of this completely fraudulent setup. And I think that people who live in nice houses forget sometimes all the help they've had to get there, for instance, just on the most basic, you know, kind of level. Pat is benefiting from this actual crime. On the other hand, do you really want to have the reader just identify with the victim? You know, I was trying to do it from sides, both the criminal's point of view and the victim's point of view. And of course, you know, Pat is also a victim.

SIMON: How much time do you spend in research and how much in writing?

Ms. CAREY: Well, see this was so much fun. I spent more time than I, you know, I really had to. My daughter was a big mock trial star in high school, so we went to a lot of trials together. I would come in maybe every couple of weeks.

SIMON: Now, where were you seeing these trials?

Ms. CAREY: Both Tyco and WorldCom in New York. I saw the WorldCom people being sentenced and then I followed them down and I - you know, and walked out with them.

SIMON: You have a couple of descriptions in there where you're talking about the photographers going crazy.

Ms. CAREY: That's all based on the stuff I saw, really.

SIMON: It's hard for people who haven't seen it to quite understand the fury of a scene like that.

Ms. CAREY: And really there was one that was, he couldn't find a cab, and it was really worse when the photographers finally gave up and left him alone, because he was just - he didn't know what he was doing. And finally I just went up and told him where to get a cab. It's the only time I ever spoke to anybody that I just thought, you know, I got to do something. This is ridiculous.

SIMON: Let me ask you to read a section of this book. Pat Foy is visiting her husband Frank in prison. She's brought along their daughter, Ruby.

Ms. CAREY: Sure.

Ms. CAREY: (Reading) Happy Thanksgiving, she said, perched on the molded plastic chair. She told Frank he was looking good, a little white lie. Because he had been defined by his decisive and sometimes overbearing energy, it was difficult to see him so restrained, so skinny, so watchful. So how's Winky(ph), he asked. Ruby had been given Winky as a puppy years before. Good, she said briefly. Pat decided not to mention that Ruby's social studies teacher had called yesterday to find out why she was missing so much school. It's not bad here, said Frank. Then he attempted more jauntiness, maybe even irony. Yesterday, we had apples. How nice, cried Pat. I love apples. You know that the forbidden fruit was a fig, not an apple. Sometimes I wish you were in here with me, said Frank. That's so sweet, said Pat. I don't know why you shouldn't be, said Frank, still smiling. You're the one who's still reaping the benefits of my evil behavior.

SIMON: When it's all over, you realize one of the questions - at least I did - that you seem to raise in your novel is what is that elemental fascination that Pat had for Frank?

Ms. CAREY: Well, he always has a kind of appetite, clearly, and...

SIMON: He likes living well, fine restaurants. He even says while he's in prison at one point, I'll call - or I wish I could call ahead to make a reservation for you there. I know, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CAREY: You know, it's a more socially sanctioned appetite than, you know, her old boyfriend, Lemuel Samuel, has. But it is still very real. And he chafes at ordinariness in a similar sort of way to Lemuel Samuel. Now, I think he was led over the line. I don't think he would have gone over the line by himself. But, you know, so many of those people were.

SIMON: But still, what was the fascination that - why are Frank and Pat together? Can you tell us?

Ms. CAREY: She's not at all turned off by his ambition, by his, you know, grandiose, very soon, very grandiose, plans. No, she thinks it's exciting too.

SIMON: Jacqueline Carey. Her new novel is "It's a Crime." Ms. Carey, thanks so much.

Ms. CAREY: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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