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For noir fans, it’s hard to imagine the dark alleys and wide boulevards of Los Angeles without Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s hardscrabble investigator. Brian Rubendall’s PI stories are marked with just as strong a sense of place. It just may not be the place you’d anticipate.
“The urban PIsthere are just so many of them,” says Rubendall. “Putting a PI in the suburbs, that’s not what you’d expect.” So the 37-year-old Rubendall set private eye J.D. Slade loose on the mean streets of…Fairfax County.
“I’m constantly making references to the horrible traffic and the relative sameness of the architecture,” says Rubendall, an Oakton, Va., resident for the past decade, of his home turf. “It’s pretty faceless.
“Not that it’s bad living out there,” he quickly adds.
Though he hangs his shingle in the ‘burbs, Rubendall’s private dick still tangles with unseemly characters. In the short story “Cybersex,” published in the most recent issue of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Slade matches wits with an Internet-cruising pedophile. Such a scenario, Rubendall says, “really touches people in the suburbs.”
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Slade’s nontraditional address is a crucial part of his backstory: An Army Ranger in the first Gulf War, he drifts to the relative quiet of the Northern Virginia suburbs to come to terms with his training as a killing machine. But after he employs his Special Forces skills to avenge the death of his first client, the skittish snoop leaves his firm to go it alone in an office near the Vienna Metro station. Though he’s never fingered for the murder, his sense of guilt makes Slade a “crusader for justice, rather than a simple PI,” Rubendall says. “Cybersex” bears this out: After Slade catches the pedophile in the act, he asks that the $10,000 reward be given to a battered-women’s shelter.
Like his character, Rubendall can point to prior training that’s played a role in his second career. A supervisory criminal investigator, he draws on 14 years of experience cracking white-collar crime to add authenticity to his writing. Careful not to flout ethics restrictionshe’s not allowed to write about specific cases, nor say which federal bureau he works forRubendall does allow that he uses “techniques and general knowledge” from his day job.
Rubendall studied political science at Northern Illinois University with an eye toward a government job, but he says he’s always loved the written word. “I’ve had the bug since I was in high school, but I never made any serious attempts to get anything published,” he says. “I wanted to be the next Stephen King at one time, when I was much, much younger.”
Writing on evenings and weekends, Rubendall knocked out his first Slade novel, a potboiler about Russian mail-order brides, in six weeksthen spent another six months on revisions. A quick turnaround, that, but not too surprising given that the Slade character had been knocking around in Rubendall’s head for 10 years.
The author’s pace hasn’t slackened: Rubendall, who says he bailed on his first contract because of the publisher’s unscrupulousness, is now shopping a second Slade manuscript. Meanwhile, he’s started a column on presidential-assassination attempts for Futures. His first subject is fellow Freeport, Ill., native Charles Guiteau, and in researching the little-known hometown antihero, Rubendall has learned that for all its uncertainties, a literary career may offer a better chance at immortality than a life of crime: “If you don’t kill the right personGarfield was a relatively little-known presidentyou can get forgotten even if you pull off a dastardly crime.” Josh Levin