An Interview with Five Decembers Author James Kestrel

Punk Noir Magazine

James Kestrel is living the kind of life that a lot of other crime writers can only dream about. A practicing attorney, ex-bar owner, and world traveler who has won praise from the likes of Stephen King and Dennis Lehane for his newest novel Five Decembers (Hard Case Crime). He certainly has hit the ball straight out of the park with his most recent swing and deservedly so. Sharing a love for crime writing and Taiwan, I caught up with the Hard Case to ask him to answer some of our questions for Punk Noir’s Important Authors Interview Series.


Thanks a lot for agreeing to answer our questions here at Punk Noir, James. To kick things off, can you tell all of our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?


I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, and then I went to a boarding high school in Michigan called Interlochen Arts Academy, where I majored in creative writing. I also majored in creative writing in college (at a now-defunct school that occupied a former funeral home in San Francisco’s Mission District). Because I was otherwise unemployable, when I graduated, I moved to Taiwan and lived there for four years teaching English. I came back to the U.S. to attend law school, then moved to Hawaii. I started publishing novels in 2013, and have put out six under my own name. James Kestrel is a pseudonym.


Tell us about your most recent novel Five Decembers.

FIVE DECEMBERS is the most ambitious novel I’ve ever written. At its heart it’s a murder mystery, but its scope is enormous and spans the entirety of World War II. The main character, Joe McGrady, is a Honolulu detective who gets swept into the war and caught on the wrong side of the lines when he tracks a killer to Hong Kong just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I tried to write it like a punch in the gut.

What and/or who are your inspirations?

Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, James Ellroy, Ray Carver, Raymond Chandler, Megan Abbott, Laura Lipmann, Ernest Hemingway, and Haruki Murakami, to name a few.


What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?


Unless you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there’s no rush. Slow down a bit, read, re-read, and revise, and then start submitting to agents or publishers. Otherwise you might publish six books and then have to change your name.

What are your plans for the future?


To fight again another day.


What is an issue you care about deeply?


Right now, preserving our form of government in the United States. I fear we are one or two elections away from the end of our 245 year experiment with democracy. My grandfather—a German-American who killed Nazis for his country—would have been disgusted by the political rhetoric of the last 4 or 5 years.


What novel are you reading now?


I’m reading THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but in Chinese. This is extraordinarily difficult for me and will probably take me until next summer to finish. I usually only read one book at a time, but I may have to find something in English so I’m not walking around with a permanent headache.


What music are you listening to now?


My wife plays piano and violin. Right now she’s working on Scottish Fantasy in E Flat Major, Op. 46, by Max Bruch. So I listen to that a lot.


Finish this sentence: Fuck ______!




What did you last eat?


The other half of my five year old son’s breakfast sandwich that he left on his car seat after I dropped him off at school.


If you could go on a drinking binge with 5 writers alive or dead who would you choose?


Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Jack Ketchum (I had a drink with him once, and would dearly have liked another), Iris Chang, and Toni Morrison. I’d add Stephen King to that list but I know he doesn’t drink and I’d hate to be the guy who wrecked that for him.


If you could travel to a time and place in history what would it be?


Queens, New York, around September 1945. I would track down Fred Trump and give him a box of condoms.


What would you like written on your gravestone?


James Kestrel

1977 – 2177


(So medical science better get cracking on whatever it is that will make that possible.)

Formerly a bar owner, a criminal defense investigator, and an English teacher, James Kestrel is now an attorney practicing throughout the Pacific. His writing has won advance praise from Stephen King, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Meg Gardiner, James Fallows, Pico Iyer, and numerous other authors. A sailor and world traveler, Kestrel has lived in Taiwan, New Orleans, and a West Texas ghost town. He lives in Volcano, Hawaii.