All posts by jodicompton

Nick Carraway, P.I.

How “The Great Gatsby” foreshadowed the
American hardboiled crime novel

In my younger years, my father gave me some advice — wait, that wasn’t me.

Let’s try again: In my younger years, I read The Great Gatsby twice. Once in high school, again in college, sprinting through its nine economically-written chapters so I could write the obligatory paper on “Car Culture and the American Dream in Gatsby.” Much like Daisy Buchanan, I didn’t slow down to pay attention to the details, because I wanted to get back to what I really loved in those days — reading hardboiled crime novels. Which is funny, because had I paid attention, I would have seen that Gatsby is, in all but structure, a hardboiled novel. Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to West Egg; I’ll fix you a julep and tell you what I mean. Continue reading Nick Carraway, P.I.


House, Holmes and Hailey

Or, Why I consider Sherlock Holmes
the grandfather of Hailey Cain

Note: This essay contains a significant spoiler for Hailey’s War and a more minor one for Thieves Get Rich, Saints Get Shot.

 It’s difficult to imagine two fictional investigators further apart in character than Sherlock Holmes and Hailey Cain.  Holmes was the son of country squires; Hailey the daughter of blue-collar California.  Holmes pursued criminals through the fog of 19th-century London; Hailey through the ‘overheated sprawl of Los Angeles’. Holmes played the violin in his Baker Street flat; Hailey probably downloads MP3s.  Holmes’s best friend was a righteous British Army doctor; Hailey’s is a Latina gangbanger.

So it’s going to take some explanation how Sherlock gave rise to Hailey.  Continue reading House, Holmes and Hailey


If you’re wondering who’s asking the questions in this Q&A, well, it’s also me. I’ve found this to be a quick-moving, fun alternative to a traditional essay. Warning: contains mild spoilers for “Hailey’s War.”

Hailey Cain is 23 as Hailey’s War opens. Why such a young protagonist?

That has its roots in how the success of 37th Hour changed my life. When I first had the idea for Sarah Pribek novels, I was 29 and working full-time in a newsroom, a disciplined, deadline-oriented environment. Most of the people I worked with were in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. I created a world for Sarah that was similar. She worked in law enforcement, a hierarchal world with clear rules (even if she broke them sometimes).

Then I sold 37th Hour and made enough money to quit my newsroom job. Continue reading


Let’s get this out of the way: You’re Californian and live in California. Sarah is Minnesotan and lives there. How’d that happen? This must be the most frequent question you get about Sarah.

The short answer is, I spent three years in Minneapolis, going to grad school in journalism. Then I got a newsroom job in California, and I hadn’t been back all that long when the character of Sarah Pribek started to take shape in my mind. It was really clear to me that she lived and worked in the Twin Cities. Continue reading

The Field of Flowers

vert-poppy-fade-matteThis is a standalone story from a time when my influences were more in the horror genre, though you can see where things are heading –the unnamed narrator is a cop. The title’s not the most original, I suppose, but I’m not changing anything about it at this late stage. There comes a time when you have to put your early work under glass with a sign reading “Do Not Touch,” and this story is definitely in that category.

His skin was the color of eggshells.  Of paper.  He’d been exsanguinated.


The call came in around 6:45 a.m.  A runner found the body.  Joggers find so many things for us in law enforcement.  Them and hikers.

The body of a young white male, the report said, seen in the blackberry bushes that overran a slope leading down to a creek.  The first patrol officer on the scene didn’t disturb anything, just took one good look and called for a detective and a crime-scene unit.  We later realized that his assiduousness nearly cost the victim his life.
Continue reading The Field of Flowers

Welcome …


Why a Reading Room? When I first created a website, I knew I didn’t want a typical blog (nobody’s interested in what I had for breakfast this morning, usually not even me). But like most writers, I do shorter pieces between longer projects, and I wanted a place for those — bits of writing you can enjoy with a cup of coffee and a croissant (or whatever your indulgence is).

For example, this is where you’ll find “Origins” essays on both Sarah Pribek and Hailey Cain, an early short story with a supernatural twist, and pieces on books or movies that fascinate me. This includes “Nick Carraway, P.I.,” where I argue that “The Great Gatsby” is a forerunner of the American hardboiled crime novel.

I hope you find something here you enjoy. As always, get in touch with your thoughts at