Mark Rubinstein is the author of the new novel Mad Dog Vengeance, the third in a trilogy that also includes Mad Dog House and Mad Dog Justice. He is a psychiatrist who also has written nonfiction, including Bedlam's Door. He lives in Connecticut.
Q: This is the third and final novel in your Mad Dog trilogy. At what point did you decide to write it, and did you know it would be the last one about these characters?
A: I never knew it would be a trilogy. I wrote the first one, Mad Dog House, as a stand-alone novel. It ended on a note of uncertainty. I received so many questions—Would there be a follow-up? I felt a certain degree of pressure, and I guess I had difficulty giving up my first fictional characters, in a sense my first-born!
I wrote Mad Dog Justice, which also ended on a note of uncertainty. I figured life is filled with uncertainty. So I left it at that! There were two, two-and-a-half years between Mad Dog Justice and Mad Dog Vengeance. I came under such pressure—I was amazed at the emotional investment people made in [my characters] Roddy Dolan and Danny Burns.
They’re a surgeon and an accountant. They are not detectives or lawyers, there were not more cases coming down their path. But there were so many questions, I figured I [would write another]. But this time, I really wanted it to come to an end.
One of the things I felt challenged by, when you write a trilogy, many people won’t pick up the third book if they haven’t read the first two. For new readers, you have to summarize the first two books in the first pages, yet without boring the reader who has read the first two. You’re walking on a tightrope. The most difficult part was the first 10 pages.
It was a lot of fun, but I never knew it would be a trilogy. Now that’s over, I want to move to other things.
Q: How do you think your character Roddy changed over the course of the three books?
A: He was not a very self-reflective guy in the beginning. He’s only 44 but he had gone through life not really thinking about how profoundly his past influenced him. But as the third book goes along, he begins to appreciate the depth of his love for his wife and children, how much they mean to him. He also has a deeper appreciation for how precious life is, and how fleeting it can be.
In one of the last lines in the book, Roddy feels his life is filled with regrettable moments. We all do. It doesn’t mean you can’t go and life a [valuable] life.
He matures, he tempers some of his Mad Dog ways. He was a boxer—he had to live by his wits and his fists. It’s important for a character to evolve over the course of books, especially a trilogy.
Q: You raise a question in your author’s note about the issue of whether the choices Roddy and his friend Danny make are moral or not. Do you have an answer to that?
A: This is a tough question! We all do what we do in the context of what’s going on in our lives at the moment. Roddy has been at times forced to do terrible things. He did them out of pure need, or in self-defense. He managed to rationalize them…he knows he did terrible things, but feels he did them in a higher cause, protecting the people he lives, and that too is a rationalization.
He also…regrets what he’s done to Danny, his best friend. Some of what they did was Roddy’s machinations. He realizes in book three that the only way to protect Danny is to keep him ignorant. He does his best to be a moral person. Like the majority of us, he’s imperfect, but I think Roddy does the best he can.
He finds himself in impossible circumstances, and tries to make the best of the gauntlet through at his feet. The book is about choices, morality, loyalty, friendship, redemption. Aside from being a crime thriller, it has the underlying issue, not specific to crime fiction, that points to a higher order of thinking.
Q: What has been the reaction to this book from readers?
A: The overriding reaction is they are sorry to see the Mad Dog books come to an end. You love hearing that! One reviewer said, My only regret is that the Mad Dog series has come to an end—or has it?
I found myself saying to my wife that maybe I could do another one, but I don’t know. If I did, it would be another couple of years from now. If the book sold a zillion copies, I would do another one!
The pitfall some writers fall into is that they do a series and get lazy. Though I could never get lazy with Roddy. What happened to him, and to me as a writer, is that he became more complex as a character.
By the third book, he’s much more complex, thinking about life, about his son, about his daughter, about his wife, about his profession. He’s not just a physician [in this book] but the father of a patient—he’s on the other side of the stethoscope. It’s like life—you grow and learn.
Q: So you mentioned moving on to other projects. What are you working on next?
A: The working title is Downfall. It involves a physician—he’s having lunch in a diner in Manhattan and he hears sirens, and he sees, on East 79th Street, a huge crowd of people, police cars. He sees a tarp covering a body. Someone was shot and killed in front of his office door.
He ends up going home, he turns on the 6 o’clock news, and Chuck Scarborough is giving the news. He reports that a young man, Robert Harper, was killed. He’s a look-alike to the protagonist. He could be a fraternal twin of the protagonist. The story takes off from there.
Q: Anything more about Mad Dog Vengeance that we should know?
A: It is what it is. Hopefully people will find it, read it, and enjoy it!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mark Rubinstein.