A. J. Devlin’s freshman book “Cobra Clutch” won the 2019 Arthur Ellis Award and was named a finalist for the 2019 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Awards. Not a bad feat for old “Hammerhead” Jed, who this month returns in the kickass “Five Moves of Doom,” the third muscle-flexing entry in Devlin’s tough-as-nails, banana-shaking crime series.
We last read of Jed’s exploits in 2020’s “Rolling Thunder,” which took readers into the rough and tumble world of roller derby. This time, a more seasoned Jed faces his toughest challenge yet, his own shortcomings. When he’s hired to retrieve a missing UFC Championship belt, he sets out to infiltrate the world of mixed martial arts fighters and hits his limit in the process. Dirt Harry in the movie Magnum Force uttered the words “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and we get a glimpse of what that means in Devlin’s superb new book.
Read below for an interview with Devlin himself!
WHITEHURST: First off, have you ever gotten to hold a UFC Championship belt?
DEVLIN: Now that is a question I have not been asked before! Alas, while I have been able to hold some ring bling in the past, it definitely was not a UFC belt.
WHITEHURST: We’ve seen pet snakes, roller derby, and now UFC belts in the Hammerhead series. What led to the idea for Jed’s third adventure?
DEVLIN: Two things for sure. The first being that at some point I always wanted to have Jed catch a case that would take him into the world of mixed martial arts, particularly the street level origins of this form of extreme combat, as in many ways it felt like it would provide perhaps the most daunting challenge yet for such a rough-and-tumble athlete-sleuth. The second idea, which fit nicely with MMA, was to take a guy like “Hammerhead” Jed, who is so defined by his physicality and used to being the biggest, toughest hoss in the room, and strip him not only of that advantage but also the one intrinsic element he relies upon most when the chips are down.
WHITEHURST: How would you describe “Five Moves of Doom” to a pro writer as opposed to a pro MMA fighter? Is that a weird question?
DEVLIN: I wouldn’t say weird but unique! I think I pretty much just answered in the previous question how I would describe Five Moves of Doom to a professional writer as it references the McGuffin of a stolen commemorative championship UFC belt and how that’s combined with a tough guy PI’s game-changing personal journey.
But to describe it to a pro MMA fighter I might boil it down to three things: a swiped strap, a grappling gumshoe, and some hardcore no-holds-barred beatdowns and brutality.
WHITEHURST: This one has yoga and goats. Tell me about that? Are you a yoga person?
DEVLIN: I always was intrigued by and admired yoga, but the spiritual aspect of the discipline never really appealed to me personally. However, when I learned professional wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer Diamond Dallas Page had created a hybrid yoga system called DDP Yoga (which focused more on working around and recovering from injuries in addition to building functional strength), I had to give it a try and was immediately hooked. From there I learned of other types of hybrid yoga, and once I saw that first YouTube video of people doing yoga with goats, it was just so quirky and offbeat it felt like the perfect business venture to have Jed’s upscale bookmaker ally engaged in when the character returned for the threequel.
WHITEHURST: Jed Ounstead is growing as a character, from his first adventure to his third, what are some of the ways you’ve worked to keep the character fresh?
DEVLIN: By trying in all the books to tell two separate stories – the mystery that Jed finds himself drawn into, but also a distinct character arc where he is forced to acknowledge, accept, and embrace things about himself that his cases cause him to confront.
The idea was always to have the title of each book – each the name of a wrestling move – to also serve as a metaphor for where Jed is in his life.
In Cobra Clutch, Jed is a washed-up pro-wrestling superstar and stuck in a rut working as a bouncer while his retired Vancouver Police Detective father is trying to coax his son into moving on by joining the family business as a licensed private investigator. A “Cobra Clutch” is also a particular wrestling hold, not that dissimilar from a head lock, in which a person is immobilized and stagnant.
“Rolling Thunder” is an aggressive aerial move, which was meant to reflect Jed being almost over-confident as a newly minted PI until his borderline hubris causes him to make a careless mistake that has deadly consequences.
And “Five Moves of Doom” are a series of attacks that telegraph to the audience the end of a wrestling match is near. This dovetailed nicely with Jed’s third and most challenging case yet – occurring a full year after the events of Cobra Clutch – and puts a button on his journey up to this point as a body slamming sleuth while hinting at a changing of the guard or finality to Jed’s new career. Without giving too much away, it’s also an ominous lingo used within the confines of the squared circle, and I wanted that feeling to permeate this story as it’s a kind of adversity that Jed has never faced before, whether it be as a wrestler, detective, or even as a man.
WHITEHURST: Last time we chatted, I asked about Jed as a TV show or film. Still waiting for that magic in my life! Any chance there’s something in the works?
DEVLIN: And what magic that could be! Coming from a screenwriting background I strive to make these novels as cinematic as possible, and the fact that people like yourself can envision this kind of escapist entertainment I’m trying to provide is about as high as praise can get in my opinion, so thank you. It’s definitely something that’s in the back of my mind, but like the time I take to craft these novels, it’s also something I would work very hard at trying to have happen the right way in order to do justice to a character that readers have so generously embraced and whose escapades they seem to enjoy.
WHITEHURST: Jed can be found on audiobook for those who like to hear their stories rather than read them. How has that process been for you? Did you enjoy hearing your words spoken aloud?
DEVLIN: It was pretty amazing. I subscribe to the theory of reading one’s work out loud to yourself a fair amount, as often it will sound different than in your head. But hearing the voice of Dan Condie, the talented performer who recorded the audiobook for Cobra Clutch, was a pinch yourself kind of moment. It was also a relief to hear him nail the voice of Jed’s cousin and former IRA operative cousin Declan, as I think my biggest fear was having the sidekick sound like the leprechaun from Lucky Charms commercials due to the abundance of Irish slang he uses in the novels.
WHITEHURST: As you write, have you noticed any changes in your writing habits? Is it getting easier or harder?
DEVLIN: Great question! In some ways easier for sure, as these series characters become more fully formed and familiar with each book, and I catch myself hearing them talk to me and feel at times as if I’m channeling their voices more so than I am writing them.
But the flip side is finding a way to identify and combine Jed’s next character arc with a new mystery in a way where readers are hopefully still getting to experience the same signature action and humor I hope my series is becoming known for, all while providing some emotional and narrative expansion that feels fresh, exciting, and like it’s an authentic and earned direction to take “Hammerhead” Jed and company.
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you and what’s next for Hammerhead Jed? Anything you can give away?
DEVLIN: More adventures for sure! But reaching the milestone of completing an actual trilogy of books has been much more rewarding than I initially anticipated, and while the door is open for future tales, there’s also a bit of closure at the end of Five Moves of Doom that was extremely satisfying for me.
It feels like it might be a good time to perhaps explore ideas I’ve flirted with for spinoffs and standalone stories as well, but I certainly won’t be forgetting about “Hammerhead’ Jed anytime soon, as he’s been pretty good to me and is just too much fun to write.
WHITEHURST: In person events coming up? Online events? And where can people find you?
DEVLIN: I’m excited to be back promoting this latest book in person and am in the midst of a Western Canadian book tour which has so far been a blast. And I’m thrilled to be doing a blog tour again with some old author pals and familiar stops along the way like PatrickWhitehurst.com of course.
I’m hoping to put boots to the ground and get to some mystery conventions soon including Left Coast Crime 2023: Trouble in Tucson, taking place in your neck of the woods, which is such a great place for it to be held.
And I look forward to returning to some Fan Expos and Artists Alleys at comic cons as well. Finally, I’m particularly thrilled to be appearing at and promoting Five Moves of Doom and all the books in the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series at independent pro wrestling shows, roller derby matches, and mixed martial arts events.
You can follow my upcoming schedule through ajdevlin.com and also my social media, which is all under the same handle of @ajdevlinauthor
Thanks so much Patrick for having me back for another awesome and fun interview!