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Author Chris Knopf: The Mystery Maker

Posted on 03 December 2013

Chris Knopf and Jack, his Lakeland Terrier.

Chris Knopf and Jack, his Lakeland Terrier.

by Annette Hinkle

Chris Knopf has a knack for finding dead bodies — not in real life, thankfully, but in his books.

On any given page, readers of Knopf’s thrillers can expect to encounter mysterious intruders, unexplained fires or questionable alibis in a genre that keeps Knopf inspired and his characters stumbling into the most puzzling (and often harrowing) of situations.

Take Sam Acquillo for instance.

Knopf’s protagonist is a hard-drinking, anti-social amateur detective who lives year round in a small cottage in Southampton. Sam drinks at the Pequot, a seedy seaside bar and restaurant in Sag Harbor that doesn’t really exist, well, not these days anyway, and readers have come to know him well through Knopf’s mystery series which includes five books so far — “The Last Refuge,” “Two Time,” “Hard Stop,” “Black Swan” and “Head Wounds” (all published by The Permanent Press of Sag Harbor).

Knopf has also written three books in thriller series for St. Martin’s Press starring Sam’s tough talking lawyer and friend Jackie Swaitkowski. And now, he is exploring murder and mayhem across the sound in Connecticut through the eyes of an entirely different protagonist by the name of Arthur Cathcart.

“Arthur is a market researcher,” explains Knopf, “and in the first book, ‘Dead Anyway’ it won’t be giving too much away to say his wife, Florencia, is killed but he survives. He is brain damaged and chases down the bad guy — it’s a murder mystery but with thriller elements as well.”

“In the first book, he solves the case, but not why his wife had done some of things that she did,” adds Knopf. “The book that follows, “Cries of the Lost,” just came out two weeks ago. The book is him tracking down his wife’s story and it takes him all around the world – the Caribbean, France, Spain, Italy — with his girlfriend, Natsumi Fitzgerald, who he acquired in the first book.”

While Knopf, who splits his time between Connecticut and Southampton in life and in fiction, has left the East End behind for now with this new book, he won’t be gone for long.

“I’ve added this new series to the other series,” he says. “I’m committed to Sam and the East End. I’m working on the sixth Sam book and I’m still very much involved in the Jackie Swaitkowski series.

Keeping multiple characters and plot points straight at any given moment would be enough to make anyone’s head spin, but as a writer, it’s a balancing act Knopf finds exhilarating.

“I think it’s the way I’m wired. I like to have a lot of different things going on,” he says. “I’m writing the third Arthur and sixth Sam book simultaneously. People think that’s crazy, but for me, it’s my way.”

When asked about his writing process and how he puts together the story lines for his novels, Knopf responds by saying, “If you speak to 50 writers, you’ll get 50 different answers. I have to have a beginning and an end. I don’t always know the middle and have to work hard to bridge the two, but I realized in my years of doing this you have to know ultimately where you’re going to end up.”

As if working on his 12th and 13th books simultaneously wasn’t enough, Knopf’s also busy in his other job — as CEO for Mintz & Hoke Communications Group, an advertising and PR firm in Connecticut.

“I live this dual life. Connecticut is very different from Long Island and Long Island is very different from Connecticut,” says Knopf who adds that he was inspired to make Arthur Cathcart a market researcher by trade because it’s a profession which gives his character the skill set he needs to follow the most obscure clues.

“Market researchers are wily, good at interviewing and figuring stuff out,” says Knopf. “Arthur’s a wonky intellectual and works on his own. When he’s launched into this totally unwanted circumstance, he’s able to employ his expertise and background in solving crime.”

“You wouldn’t think it if you met this mild mannered market researcher, but these guys are samurais of the information age,” adds Knopf. “They learn from secondary and tertiary resources. I think the closest thing to a market researcher is an investigative reporter.”

Knopf is aware that when fiction writers create tech savvy characters like Arthur they run the risk of their work becoming dated once the cutting edge technology they envision becomes commonplace. But for now, Knopf feels his sources are keeping him well ahead of that curve.

“I think the concern I had was that the technology I see is more advanced than the average person believes,” says Knopf who adds that his firm works with clients who are doing very advanced and sophisticated things in technology. “What’s fun is I get to know techy people and interview them about this whacky stuff. My worry is more that people won’t believe it.”

Knopf will be one of two special guests at the Friends of the John Jermain Memorial Library’s annual Book and Author Luncheon this Sunday, December 8 from noon to 2:30 p.m. at The American Hotel on Main Street in Sag Harbor. Also speaking at the luncheon will be Christina Haag, author of “Come to the Edge” her New York Times bestselling memoir about her five year romance with John Kennedy, Jr. which Haag wrote while living in Montauk and Sag Harbor. The  cost of the luncheon is $50. To secure a reservation, contact Chris Tice at ecitchris@aol.com or (631) 725-3803. 

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