Interviews

Tucson Rocker Turned Author Dan Stuart Is Bringing His Latest Crime Novel to Tempe

Dan Stuart, formerly of Green On Red, will read from his new book this weekend at Zia Records in Tempe.
Dan Stuart, formerly of Green On Red, will read from his new book this weekend at Zia Records in Tempe. R&R Press
Revenge and temptation usually go hand in hand. The fleeting pleasure they offer often gives way to regret, yet we can’t resist them. Get tangled up in this terrible twosome, and you’re probably fucked.

After reading Dan Stuart’s latest book, Marlowe’s Revenge, it's apparent the former Green on Red frontman understands this delicate dance as well as anyone writing today. Set in Tucson, the novel centers around Marlowe Billings, a somewhat fictionalized version of the author himself who has been the central character of a trilogy that started in 2014.

Stuart, who will read from the book, answer some questions, and play a few songs at the Tempe location of Zia Records on Sunday, November 13, has a very specific idea of how much of himself is actually in his fictional protagonist.

“That’s the old joke. My joke for all these books is that they are 65 percent true, but isn’t all fiction 65 percent true? That line comes from my old writing partner, Chuck Prophet, who used to say that Green on Red always gave it 65 percent instead of 100 percent, and that number has always stuck with me. That’s what we do with our lives, right? We all kind of give 65 percent. Nobody likes those 100 percent people,” Stuart says.

Like the fictional Billings, Stuart began his music career in Tucson and returned there in 2018 after spending time in Los Angeles, New York, Europe, and Mexico. As a member of Green on Red, Stuart carved out a well-respected yet largely unheralded career that spanned multiple albums and extensive tours. When the band called it a day in 1992, a solo career beckoned that eventually included literature as well as music.

In addition to the two earlier Marlowe Billings novels (2014’s The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings and 2018’s The Unfortunate Demise of Marlowe Billings), Stuart has crafted three killer companion CDs of music as well. They share the same title as the books and can be considered companion pieces. Listening to them makes one wonder if Black Francis (Frank Black) of the Pixies spent a lot of time listening to Green on Red back in the day.

“I hadn’t made any music for a long time. Just like Tucson, I’ll take decades off from [music]. My family kind of imploded back in 2010 and I ended up in Oaxaca. The only thing I really knew how to do was make a record, and I had this idea to do a trilogy of records and books, and they’ll all have the same title. This [new book] is Marlowe’s Revenge, but that was the second record in the trilogy. It was very satisfying to complete it,” Stuart says.

Whether art is imitating life or the other way around, Billings is not just returning to the scene of his past crimes, but finds himself embroiled in several new ones. As the action unfolds, Stuart masterfully creates characters that are compelling and inquisitive to show the richness of Billings’ world. In a way, the city of Tucson itself is a character in the novel, and Stuart weaves the type of details into his narrative that will please longtime Arizona residents and pique the curiosity of those who only long to visit.

“I’ve always said that Tucson is the town that refuses to be a city. It’s the kind of place that if you come here in your 20s and 30s, you just fall in love with it, but if you’re from here, it’s one of those places you’ve just got to leave, but you can come back. My family came [to Tucson] in 1967 and I lived [there] until about 1980, and then again in the '90s before coming back in 2018,” he says.

Those who haven't read the first two books in the trilogy should still pick up a copy of Marlowe’s Revenge (R&R Press), as stands on its own quite well. The term “neo-noir” pops up in the press release for the book and while it fits like a glove, there's something deeper going on here: Stuart blends aspects of recovery, murder, golf, music, and mystery into a really delicious, brainy stew.

Golf enthusiasts will particularly enjoy how the sport is woven into the fabric of the story. Stuart builds an interesting relationship between Billings and Detective Chavez, a Tucson homicide detective working a murder case in which the former is a reluctant suspect. The novel reads like a satisfying day on the course, and Stuart replicates the rhythm and pace of an avid golfer as if each chapter is a new shot toward the green.

Smooth, challenging, and ultimately measured like the yardage on a par four, Marlowe’s Revenge leaves you wanting one more hole as you finish up the round, even if the living, breathing Stuart doesn’t hit ’em like he used to when he was younger.

“My relationship to golf is like my relationship to Tucson. I haven’t played since the '90s and I don’t know if I ever would again. I have two new hips, so I could, I guess. I have great memories. I love golf and I think it works as a metaphor. People think it is expensive, but back then, $12 for three to four hours of recreation is not a bad deal. People hate it and I understand the hate,” says Stuart.

Both Billings and Chavez seek peace on the course, but like the game itself, there's no guarantee your ball won’t end up in a precarious position. Each man uses the game as a tool to clear their mind, but they're also looking for something on the course they can’t quite find without each other. This is one of the most gratifying parts of the novel.

Marlowe’s Revenge is not really about good guys and bad guys, though. It’s more about people who walk the edge of temptation and revenge a little more profoundly than the average person would be comfortable. Even though the novel is the end of the trilogy, it is clear Stuart has a lot more to teach us about this path. Let’s hope he continues to show us the way, or at the very least, how to avoid the sand traps.

Dan Stuart book event. 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, November 13. Zia Records, 3201 South Mill Avenue, Tempe. Attendance is free, and Marlowe's Revenge costs $20. Visit the Zia event page for more details.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon

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