It’s hard to compare “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead with other fictional detectives – as I’ve not really come across any characters quite like him. He’s got the smoothness of a Phillip Marlowe, say if Marlowe was an ex-pro wrestler with a quirky set of family members and a penchant for banana milkshakes. Or perhaps he’s more like Lana Lee of the cozy Noodle Shop Mystery novels, who deals with a fair share of family drama herself. If you like either of these, or both as I do, you need to meet Jed.
Author A.J. Devlin‘s mystery series is anything but cozy. They can be damn brutal, but a hell of a good time for those interested in tough guys, crime yarns, and solid, often laugh-out-loud, books. “Intense and Cinematic” is what author Sam Weibe called the first in the series, 2018’s “Cobra Clutch,” and he wasn’t kidding. These things are begging for the big screen. Failing that, the binge screen. His freshman book won both the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award and was named a finalist for the 2019 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Awards.
We first met Jed in Cobra Clutch (Devlin’s debut novel) when he’s hired by his former tag-team partner, Johnny Mamba, to find his kidnapped pet python, which Mamba’s named Ginger. Jed isn’t a full-fledged private eye, however. He only works for his father, but Johnny doesn’t care. He trusts Jed to get to the heart of the matter and retrieve his beloved pet. Only things don’t go at all as planned. Before long Hammerhead finds himself up to his neck in blood and guts. What started as a missing snake quickly becomes a murder investigation.
In 2020’s “Rolling Thunder” we find that Jed has become a full-fledged private investigator and tasked with yet another gritty case of athletic prowess – this time the edgy world of women’s roller derby. Stormy Daze, a wrestler we first met in Cobra Clutch, needs Jed’s help. Now known as roller derby star Amazombie, Daze enlists Jed’s talents in the search for their missing coach. In no time, it too becomes a deadly mystery.
Keep reading below for my interview with the author himself! And purchase copies of Devlin’s series here.
WHITEHURST: First off, kudos for creating such a fun series and a memorable character in Hammerhead Jed. I never knew I needed a former wrester-turned Canadian detective in my life, but there you go. Now I do. What inspired you to write this series?
DEVLIN: When I was working toward my M.F.A. in in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute, my professor always encouraged me to read mystery novels over watching films as he thought it would help me more as an aspiring character-driven writer. He also encouraged me to one day take a crack at crime fiction myself, which I finally did. During my time reading so many mystery novels I sort of stumbled upon a sub-genre, if you will, of the athlete-detective.
I’ve read mysteries featuring boxer detectives, surfer detectives, hockey player detectives, sports agent detectives — you name it, I’ve most likely read it. However, to the best of my knowledge, no one had ever cooked up a pro wrestler detective — and given my affinity for sports entertainment growing up and the theatricality and behind-the-scenes drama of the industry, it seemed like a good angle to try and introduce a different type of athlete-detective.
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you in the writing world?
DEVLIN: I’m still promoting book 2 — “Rolling Thunder” — in the “Hammerhead” Jed series and am currently finishing writing book 3. I’m hoping to spend more time with Jed and continue the series for a while as I have many ideas for future mysteries and love writing the character so much and finding new ways to challenge him.
WHITEHURST: Will Hammerhead ever be a bingeable series on an app? I think we all need that.
DEVLIN: That’s a great idea! I’d love to have “Hammerhead” Jed as accessible as possible and would be thrilled for his misadventures and shenanigans to be available on an app!
WHITEHURST: Tell me a bit about your background? What does A.J. Stand for and…. were you a wrestler yourself?
DEVLIN: A.J. is short for Alexander Jeremy — which is a mouthful — so in addition to going by my initials I also think they look a bit better on a book cover.
I did start wrestling in grade 8 and fell in love with the sport, despite it not really resembling the product put out by WWE. That being said, wrestlers like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar have successfully transitioned from their amateur wrestling success into amazing professional wrestling careers.
And despite the sometimes over-the-top in-ring antics, all pro wresters bust their behinds to put on a hell of a show night in and night out, utilizing their skill set as to entertain fans.
WHITEHURST: Did you love wrestling as a kid? Who was your fave?
DEVLIN: Yes, I definitely grew up as a big pro wrestling fan. I would have to say my favourite wrestlers as a kid were Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
I lost touch with pro wrestling in my teens but revisited it in my early twenties during the WWE’s “Attitude Era” and was enamoured yet again by talent like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, and The Rock — who could beat you on the microphone before a match even began. As a result, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is probably a pretty big influence on “Hammerhead” Jed’s swagger and tendency to crack wise as often as he does.
WHITEHURST: Your second Hammerhead, “Rolling Thunder,” has Jed entering the world of roller derby. How are you on skates?
DEVLIN: Ha! Great question. I played hockey up until I was fifteen (Canadian!) so I’m okay on skates, although I’m definitely more comfortable on blades or in-line wheels than I am the traditional four-wheeled roller derby style skates. That being said, I think it’s awesome how roller derby preserves that retro element. That was one of the things I quickly realized when writing Rolling Thunder — the respect and pride these strong women warriors have for their amazing sport which is not only badass, but also counter-culture and anti-establishment. It was a pleasure to dip my toe into the pond of women’s roller derby and do it justice while hopefully spinning an entertaining murder-mystery yarn.
WHITEHURST: You just wrapped up a blog tour. Tell me a bit about that. How’s your book business in these pandemic days?
DEVLIN: Another great question. I’m not going to lie, it was a significant adjustment. I literally locked down a five city Canadian book tour just before Covid hit and we all went into quarantine. In some ways, I would even say launching a book virtually has been more challenging than doing it the traditional way.
I was so fortunate to have author friends and bloggers I had gotten to know from the release of Cobra Clutch who were so supportive and understanding while I launched Rolling Thunder, so cobbling together (last minute) a blog tour was much easier than expected. And people like yourself, Patrick, have been so generous even though I just fired off a few cold call emails in hopes of promoting my work, so I really don’t have much to complain about!
At the end of the day, I am very lucky that my wife and kids and myself have remained healthy and that despite current circumstances I still have had the opportunity to share my work. The “Hammerhead” Jed series was always intended to be escapist entertainment and if ever there was a need for it I’d say it would be now!
WHITEHURST: What would you tell someone at a coffee shop who says, “Hey, man. Why should I get into these books?” What’s your best elevator pitch?
DEVLIN: As I mentioned before, the series is intended to be pure, unadulterated, fun and escapist entertainment. I was born in 1978 so I grew up on movies like Back To The Future, The Goonies, Die Hard, The Last Boy Scout — all adventures with a degree of humour and whimsy I have tried to emulate with the “Hammerhead” Jed series. I believe there is value in storytelling that can whisk you away from your troubles or reality, even if only for a brief amount of time. That is the essence of what I’m trying to do with my writing.
WHITEHURST: Let’s get into the technical writing questions. It interests me, so I’m going to assume it does for others! Describe your typical writing day?
DEVLIN: Oh man, my routine kind of went out the window with the pandemic and homeschooling! There’s been a return to form with back to school in Greater Vancouver and the elementary schools have been awesome and super cautious — so I’ve had a bit more freedom of late. When I’m not working I’m the primary caregiver to my kids, which is a plum gig for a writer!
But generally I write when my children are at school or in activities as my wife has a 9-5 career so you just have to find the time when you can.
And then while I might not write necessarily after we get the little ones down for the night, I will review my work of the day, which is nice because it kind of at least allows you to edit your work before bedtime.
WHITEHURST: Do you have a playlist you listen to while working?
DEVLIN: It’s funny you ask that as my playlist fluctuates greatly. Sometimes I write in silence, other times I throw myself down a rabbit hole of different types of musical genres. I find instrumental music is the most beneficial as I’m not distracted by lyrics.
There’s a song by Moby called “Everloving” that is amazing and without giving away any spoilers, I listened to it non-stop when writing the most emotional and intense scene of Cobra Clutch in which “Hammerhead” Jed shares a pretty significant skeleton from his closet with another character. Something that happened that now defines him.
I don’t know why, but that heartfelt, beautiful, but also somewhat haunting tune really helped me channel Jed’s pain into a soliloquy which is crucial to his character and reveals so much about who he is and how he came to be where he is.
WHITEHURST: What authors influence you?
DEVLIN: I got to go with my big three. Although a life long fan, when I really got into crime fiction, I was in grad school for screenwriting. My late professor, mentor, and great friend, Academy Award nominated screenwriter and novelist Leonard Schrader — who I had the honour and privilege of dedicating Cobra Clutch to — gave me three different novels as a graduation present.
“The Last Coyote” by Michael Connelly, “Mucho Mojo” by Joe R. Lansdale, and “The Monkey’s Raincoat” by Robert Crais. Not only are they three of my favourite novels of all time, I also learned so much by seeing how they crafted a story. I tried my best to not only cherry pick from their collective genius, but also put my own spin on the story I wanted to tell with “Hammerhead” Jed, including all of the wisdom that Leonard shared with me. I have been absolutely blessed to have had Leonard as a mentor, and every time I write I hope I can honour his memory by utilizing the lessons he taught me.”
WHITEHURST: What’s your advice for writers looking to burst forth into the crime fiction scene or any scene outside of drug dealing?
DEVLIN: Lol, yeah, it’s a tough racket. No doubt about that. I know it sounds cliché, but if I had to choose a word — I would say resilience.
Cobra Clutch was rejected by every publisher and agent in Canada, before finding a home with my amazing publisher NeWest Press — who totally understood what I was trying to do with the series — and the book went on to be nominated for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery in North America followed by winning the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Canadian Crime Novel and is also now available in audiobook format and in its third printing.
If you write from your heart, and believe in your work, you will find a path.
Visit Devlin’s website here.