A Q&A with Thomas Lakeman
Q: First question: Where did the title for Broken Wing come from?
A: It’s FBI slang for an agent in disgrace – or, as my FBI friend Volney Hayes explained it, an SA (special agent) who has stepped on a certain part of his own anatomy. My protagonist, FBI Special Agent Mike Yeager, is a sincere, talented, but flawed man who has tried for years to atone for his mistakes, both on and off the job. Many of the characters in the novel are “broken wings” in a larger sense – damaged people, trying to put themselves back together, just as New Orleans is trying to put itself back together after Katrina.
Q: Why did you choose to set the story in New Orleans after Katrina?
A: It wasn’t so that I could write the definitive post-Katrina novel. James Lee Burke has already done that admirably in The Tin Roof Blowdown. As I conducted my research – part of which included surviving the storm itself – I realized that the subject is just too daunting for me to encompass in a work of entertainment. On the other hand, I didn’t want to pull a Titanic by exploiting real-life human tragedy just to give my characters a backdrop. The light finally broke when I decided that I wasn’t telling a story about Katrina – I was telling a story about characters who just happen to live in a city called New Orleans after a devastating catastrophe.
I should also note that New Orleans was once a disciplinary office for the FBI. A lot of broken wings landed in this most Catholic of American cities, so it made sense that this was where Mike should make his act of contrition.
Q: Where’s Peggy Weaver while Mike’s down in New Orleans?
A: She’s there as a supporting character, though an important one. Like all good partners, Mike and Peggy take turns. Mike was the star of the first book, The Shadow Catchers, and Peggy took the lead in Chillwater Cove. Now it’s back to Mike. Peggy is Mike’s moral compass. She always follows the rules, and the FBI has rewarded her appropriately. The primary difference between her and Mike is that she’s capable of shutting off her feelings when the situation requires, and he can’t.
Q: Isn't that headstrong personality kind of a disadvantage for him?
A: The key to Mike Yeager is that he never stops trying to do right by the victim. Where other agents see patterns and evidence, he sees human faces. Mike's tendency to hurl himself into trouble can indeed be fatal in a city as damaged -- and as dangerous -- as New Orleans. But his empathy and idealism are also his greatest strength.