Interview With Murray Lee Eiland Jr. Author of The Ishtar Cup


What is your book’s genre or category?

     I have always liked to read private eye novels. I hesitate to guess how many I read over the years.  Raymond Chandler and his “hard boiled” style is a personal favorite. Of course what was hard boiled then is rather light now! I think that I write novels that harken back at least a little to the 1940’s.  I hope that my books have modern sensibilities about social issues. The Bart Northcote series (set just after the Gulf War) are “cozy mysteries” because they emphasize plot and characters over sex or violence. As a psychiatrist for many years I am fascinated by what motivates people.

Can you describe the story in one or two sentences for our readers?

     Bart Northcote is a PI in Los Angeles who deals with clients who can pay. In The Ishtar Cup he is taken for a ride by a woman who wants to follow her business associates (partners in a stolen antiquity) to see who she can trust. Bart is well aware that his client is up to something. After one of her business associates is killed he knows somethi is seriously wrong. Bart breaks the cardinal rule of a PI by getting emotionally involved with the client. He eventually finds out just how dangerous that can be. In future novels he is savvier!

Tell us the story behind the book. What influenced you to write it and how long did it take you to finish the book?

     The Ishtar Cup was not a quick book to write, but I always loved PI novels. I had a write them. I wanted to follow the rules of the genre, so I had to read many books about how to write a mystery. I re-wrote sections of the book over and over. I had experience writing non-fiction for years, both as a psychiatrist and as an art-historian (oriental rugs). I thought I could write a novel quickly.  I was horribly deluded. The Ishtar Cup took about 2 years to finish. It was the most difficult project I have undertaken.  After writing PI stories, I read other people’s work in an entirely different way. I now really see how mystery writers have to carefully structure what they reveal and why, and what has to remain hidden. As much fun as I had reading PI novels, writing them is even more fun.

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Is there a part of you in any character in The Ishtar Cup?

     As an avid reader of PI stories, I always wondered if I was reading pure fiction, or some reality the author has experienced. I can say now that authors write what they know about, and an author cannot help but put something personal in their books. It really is a voyage of self-discovery. Psychiatrists are usually not so good at drawing inferences from fiction. Talking to non-psychiatrist friends who have read my book and who like to read mysteries, they can pick out where I got this or that plot line or turn of phrase. I came to the conclusion that the mystery story is a very complicated art form, and that it requires a lot of background to understand what is going on. Someone has to have background in the art form before even trying to see the author in the book. 

     When my character Bart Northcote says he likes to read PI novels, this is certainly me. Bart is also writing PI novels, which is also me. I, like Bart, also did have a run-around with several agents, before publishing on Amazon. When Bart becomes emotionally involved with the client, this expresses my deepest fear as a professional.  The plot also revolves around a stolen antiquity. This issue was brought to my attention by my son, who is an archaeologist who has himself written about stolen antiquities and faked antiquities. The whole book deals with facts that attracted me for one reason or another. The way the characters deal with these situations may or may not be like me. I write about fictional characters who may not have my set of values. 

How many books do you have planned for the Bart Northcote series?

I have ten books in the series that are in various states of completion.  I try to circulate them around so people can give me feedback of what worked and what did not. I edit my books all the time, even after they are published. If the series is successful, I will publish more, and just what is emphasized in the future will be dictated by feedback.  So far people have told me that they like my supporting characters better than Bart. This is interesting and something I may have to work on in the future!

Do you have a favorite book that inspires you?

There are many great writers who inspired me. As a young adult I devoured Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton (having moved on from reading about the immortal Sherlock Holmes). Every so often I re-read my past favorite authors. I still think they are great, but my tastes changed over time. As an adult I liked Chandler and Rex Stout. I recently came across the novels of Anna Katharine Green (1846 – 1935). I vaguely remember reading one of her novels before, but now I realize how great they are. Now I am reading lots of her work and having a great time. 

When did you decide to become a writer.

I was a child when I first wanted to write. I wrote fiction from a very young age. By the time I was in High School I loved English classes the most. I could be creative in a way that seemed heroic. I did not have the courage to make it a career, but happily later in life I was able to express my passion. I really like the idea of people reading what I have written and liking what they read. I know that there are many authors that I have enjoyed so much that I can say they are part of my life. I hope that in some way that I can write books to pay back all the wonderful times I have had reading what others have written.

How do you find the time to write?

Writing is selfish. You have to be alone. It excludes friends and family. I can even affect your health. I have fought with these issues for years. I had my “day job” and came home and was a hermit in my own home. I have ignored friends and family. It is my dearest wish that all the time I have spent writing will bring a little joy. I hope that everyone I ignored can see what I was working on and enjoy it too.

How can readers find you online? social accounts, website, etc..

I am on Facebook several times a week (The Bart Northcote Series). I post book reviews of old PI novels. I really like the 1940’s, but I also have some reviews from the early 1900s. I am happy to get mail through facebook too. I really appreciate when people give me feeback about my books or give me tips on what PI books I should read.

Excerpt from The Ishtar Cup


     Anyone might wonder why a Private Investigator would be addicted to reading novels about fictional practitioners of his profession, but I read them all the time.  The simple fact is that I love my work, and even fictional accounts –   especially fictional accounts – just seem to make a satisfying life all the better.

     Not that I’m anything like the losers who turn up in print.  I enjoyed the last story I finished just yesterday, but the detective, a frustrated thirtyish woman with relationship problems would, if real rather than a creation of some writer’s imagination, earn the scorn of all Private Investigators I know.  Not only does she drive a battered Volkswagen, but she’s usually charged to the max on her credit cards, has a negative balance at the bank, and is being hounded by her landlord for payment of office rent.  She gets involved with cases from which she has no hope of recovering a dollar, and there are times when she refuses payment if she believes the money would otherwise go to a more worthy cause.  In addition to regular hospitalizations for injuries sustained in pursuit of dangerous criminals, she periodically gets romantically entangled with a married cop who will never provide any stability, consorts with  juvenile delinquents, and speaks abrasively to the few people who might otherwise be inclined to make her life easier.

      It’s pathetic, but fortunately just fiction.  As for myself, Bartram Northcote, I’m an honest man, but  old-fashioned enough to believe that I deserve a fair reward for a good day’s work.  And when I’m engaged by a client I give it everything I can, at times working a solid 24 hour day.  So I’m not ashamed to say that I have two cars, a new Lexus 400 coupe and an older van with a faded but intact paint job, for use on jobs where the Lexus would be too conspicuous.  Not that my work ordinarily takes me to the seamier parts of Los Angeles, as most of my clients are reasonably affluent and have business in and around Beverly Hills or Malibu. I’ve worked for the rich and famous, but can’t mention names because I take that part of my confidentiality oath seriously.  I’ve also made enough money to support a  reasonable life-style.  I live in a substantial house off the less lavish end of Bellagio Road in Bel Aire, and I collect paintings and other fine arts.  I own the small building on Sunset Boulevard in which I keep a modest, well-decorated office with a solitary secretary. On another floor I keep a small office-annex for security reasons, but this is unmarked and known only to my secretary and myself.  It’s labeled as a janitor’s closet.

     So stories of impoverished private detectives, invented to elicit the readers’ sympathies, are more fun to read about than to live.  And I expect to be paid just like a doctor or lawyer.  Not even the police work for free.

     So I attract an upscale clientele, and I could see at a glance that the woman in my office that afternoon fit all my specifications.  I had kept her waiting about twenty minutes, as I customarily did to let Concepción, my secretary, casually elicit the kinds of information that clients don’t often volunteer to me.  She entered my office with a reserved poise and began to speak in a well-modulated voice, explaining that she that had invested a great deal of money in delivering a priceless, antique gold cup to a wealthy art collector, and she was worried about being cheated.

     As she spoke I listened, taking notes, but directed most of my attention to an assessment of her.  The clothing, or total outfit, came first.  The designer purse, soft leather high heels, and extravagantly patterned short jacket – probably of Cashmere or Alpaca – were obviously expensive, the latter possibly from a Rodeo Drive boutique, and the black skirt and sweater, both also of fine wool, brought the total cost to somewhere between $2,000 and $2500.  The imponderable was her watch, which was either worth about $8,000 or somewhat less than $50, depending upon whether it was made in Switzerland or Hong Kong.  I was inclined to believe it genuine.

     As for the woman herself, she was the real thing, the classic tall blonde with the traditional voluptuous figure, which, despite the short jacket that did not meet in front, seemed to be revealed by broad hints with each gesture.  It did not take a genius to see that she had full hips, set off by an extra-slim waist, and on top there was a living reminder of the old proverb “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”  And she had donned just the right accouterments to show it all without being too obvious.  The hair, for example, was probably naturally blonde, without being the currently fashionable platinum, and she had no doubt chosen the natural look with an awareness it would always set her apart. Her lips were covered with the exact shade to give them emphasis upon a rather broad face, in contrast to the chiseled, super-model look.  It’s important to get some assessment as to what a woman, or a man for that matter, wishes to accomplish with the parts she puts forward for the world to see.  Vanessa, as she introduced herself without a last name, obviously wanted to be noticed, lusted after, but not thought of as a whore.  It was a kind of marginally overstated class not unknown to Hollywood.

About The Author

My name is Murray Eiland Jr. I was born in 1936 and attended UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSF (MD, 1961). I worked at Napa State Hospital from 1965-2000, and then at Contra Costa County Mental Health Clinic from 2000-2011. I continue to work for the court as a forensic psychiatrist as well as consult. I am happy that I have helped many people.
In my free time I became interested in Oriental rugs. With my brother (who is still in the business) I opened a rug store. I wrote several books on oriental rugs, most recently with my son, who is an archaeologist. I have always been interested in ancient cultures, and during my travels to collect rugs I visited many areas of great antiquity. It was this experience which promoted me to write the Orfeo Saga. My foray into the private investigator genre was stimulated by my time in Los Angeles.

You can find all of  Murray Lee Eiland Jr.’s books here:

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