17 Stone Angels
17 Stone Angels: From the British Jacket Copy:
Comisario Miguel Fortunato is a recent widower near retirement after a long career with the Buenos Aires police department. Six months ago he was ordered to kidnap foreigner Robert Waterbury for reasons never made clear to him. The kidnapping turned to murder. Now, the Americans are sending their own investigator to Argentina and Fortunato is assigned to assist and support her. When he meets the young, inexperienced Athena Fowler, fresh from the University, he realizes that the Americans are not eager to solve the crime either. Gradually he pieces together the story that ended with the short harsh finale of Robert Waterbury, a failed novelist who had come to Argentina in a desperate attempt to make a big score. Was Waterbury a blackmailer, a fraud? Or was he about to turn his career around?
Surrounded by a cast of tango-dancers, torturers, burnt-out revolutionaries and global bankers, Athena and Fortunato begin to discover a crime on a level so grand it can only be called business. As the hunt for the killer intensifies, Fortunato begins to unravel not only the murder he was at the centre of, but the deeper mystery of his own career and the lies that have sustained it.
The Stone Angels is a brilliant crime novel reminiscent of the work of James Ellroy, offering a rare, authentic glimpse into a dangerous and beautiful city, and its world of illusion.
The Inside Story
Buenos Aires is like that drop-dead beautiful woman (or man) you knew who had that troubled history and a dark side you just couldn’t escape. I’d been going to B.A. since 1986 and really wanted to write a book that captured my sense of the place. The research was fairly daunting- imagine dropping in on a foreign city to research the subjects of corrupt cops and petty criminals - but everything came together in a magical way as a parade of cops, criminals, investigative journalists and human rights lawyers paraded across my days. This was unquestionably the most exhilarating writing experience I’ve had. I wrote 17 Stone Angels very quickly, with the idea of writing a straight detective thriller. In typical fashion, everything became completely inverted, with the corrupt police chief “hero” trying to create an ever larger circle of lies. What drives 17 Stone Angels is not the story of a good man finding out the truth about a crime, but about a bad man finding out the truth about himself, and that’s what made it interesting for me. I finished the rough draft in three months, and the book in eight.
The first thing that happened was that the book was optioned by Paramount on behalf of Tom Cruise’s production company, who was in turn acting for the great screenwriter Robert Towne. We thought we were really off to the races now.
My agent submitted the book 42 times and we got exactly one offer, which we turned down. There’s always a certain pattern to these submissions, for me. First, there’s the ridicule directed at the editors who’ve been so stupid as to reject it, and the disbelief as their idiotic reasons for turning it down. Then, as the rejections keep pattering in, the doubt starts, and by the end, there’s that feeling that the book really is the way they see it: too literary, or not literary enough, overwritten, or underwritten, or not violent enough, or set in a foreign country or . . . you name it. Somehow, the book is all of those contradictory negatives at the same time. They’re the editors: they must be right.
Fortunately, we had better luck on the exterior. In January of 2004, 17 Stone Angels was published in the UK by Orion Publishers under the title, The Stone Angels. It was followed by the French translation, Les Anges des Pierre, from Pygmalion, in Paris, and then in Dutch, German, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai editions.
But what about that movie? It was re-optioned, a screenplay was written, and then it was dropped. That’s life in Hollywood. But it was a pleasant fantasy while it lasted, and one should never discount the value of a pleasant fantasy.