Trace Conger - Writing About a P.I. Who Bends the Rules

Trace Conger - Writing About a P.I. Who Bends the Rules
author of the day

Once upon a time, Trace Conger used to be a freelance writer. Nowadays, as an author, he enjoys crafting great works of fiction, doing some amateur woodworking and being a kickass dad. He is best known for his Mr. Finn series (featuring a P.I. who is anything but a goody-two-shoes) of which the first book, The Shadow Broker, won the 2015 Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. Novel. Today we chat about why mr. Finn is not your typical hero, how Conger still enjoys the feel of paperbacks in his hands and the new paranormal mystery that he is working on.

Please give us a short introduction to The Prison Guard's Son

The Prison Guard's Son is the third installment in the "Mr. Finn" crime series. It finds underground PI, Finn Harding, as he's hired to find two child killers living under the protection of the US government's witness protection program.

During his investigation, Finn clashes with a tenacious US Marshal determined to protect the killers' new identities and crosses paths with an infamous triggerman hired to do what the courts didn't.

How did you come up with the character of Finn Harding? He is hardly your regular goodie-two-shoes type of hero.

Finn is actually inspired by a real PI I met years ago. This PI, who is now retired, ran a PI agency in Florida. He told me about a time when he was down on his luck financially and was facing the inevitability that he might have to close his agency. In typical Hollywood fashion, a client walked into his office and wanted to hire him to do something illegal. We're not talking about killing someone here, but what he was asked to do was highly unethical. He initially refused, but after reflecting on his current situation, ultimately took the case.

He explained that had he been caught, he would have lost his PI license, which would have ended his career. He didn't get caught, but I always wondered what would have happened had he. That's when the idea for Finn Harding was born. He is someone who is willing to bend the rules for what he believes to be the greater good.

How, would you say, has Finn grown as a character from Book 1 up until now?

Finn doesn't change much from book to book. He's similar to Jack Reacher in that respect, but he has learned to make smarter decisions. In the first book in the series, The Shadow Broker, Finn didn't quite realize the repercussions his actions could have on those around him. Now he is deeply aware of that, which is one of the reasons why he is cautious not to allow his "job" to cross paths with his family. Things don't always work out that way, but he does his best to operate in the shadows.

Where do you find your inspiration for new cases for Finn to investigate?

I find inspiration in real events. The Shadow Broker was partly inspired by the Silk Road, an online black market, and more generally inspired by the Deep Web or Dark Web. The Prison Guard's Son was inspired by the James Bulger murder. That was a fascinating case on many levels, but what intrigued me the most was that these two child killers (who were children themselves at the time of the murder) were given new identities after they were released from a detention facility in England because the government believed the killers could face retribution for their crimes.

I read about that case years ago and it always stuck with me and when I was playing with plot ideas for The Prison Guard's Son, it seemed like a good jumping off point.

Finn goes through quite a moral dilemma in The Prison Guard's Son.  Why did you pick this approach?

I wanted to play with the idea that (some) people change. Most of the conflict that Finn deals with is external, as he usually has someone looking to stop him, however I really wanted to explore what he would do when he discovers that these now grown child killers aren’t the individuals he thought they were. Finn is hired to find these two understanding that when he does, they will be killed, so he is essentially directly responsible for their deaths even though he is not the one pulling the trigger.

At first, he feels justified because be believes these two deserve to die for what they did so long ago, but he's surprised to see how his feelings change once he begins to learn who these individuals have become.

Tell us a bit about your journey in becoming an author.  Was there ever a defining moment where you suddenly realized "I am now an author" - as in, "this is now my career"?

Before I started writing novels, I was a freelance writer, so I've been slinging words for a long time, but I only committed myself to fiction a few years ago. Writing was something I always wanted to pursue partly because I love the process of creating characters and plots, but also because I don't feel I'm suited for anything else.

I think the first time I realized I was "actually an author" was after The Shadow Broker had been published and readers emailed me asking for more. I love interacting with readers and often meet with book clubs (either in person on virtually) and seeing readers taking such an interest in the series told me there might be something to this "writing thing."

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

The writing :-)

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

I'm not a purist and won't argue that one format is better, but I probably gravitate more toward paperbacks. I like holding books in my hand and I love to read outside, where glare on an e-reader can be a problem. My kids have usually commandeered my tablet for themselves, so it can be hard to track that down. I do read ebooks from time to time, though.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I am an amateur woodworker, a pretty solid volleyball player, and a kick-ass dad.

Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?

While I didn't set out to explore this intentionally, one of the themes that keep popping up in the Finn novels is that people often justify doing bad things for good reasons. Finn faces this first hand. He is not an evil person, but he often does things that most people would deem evil although he feels justified in his actions. I also like to explore the idea of what one is driven to do when those around them are in danger.

What has most surprised you about the response you've received from readers from your previous books?

I'm surprised that so many readers have contacted me asking when the next Finn book will be available. I don't think that will ever not surprise me, the fact that so many people have taken an interest in the series. It really floors me. I was also surprised when the PI Writers of America named The Shadow Broker, the first novel in the Finn series, as one of the best crime books of 2014. I wasn't expecting that one.

What are you working on now?

I hope not to alienate any readers, but I'm taking a break from the Finn series to work on a paranormal mystery that focuses on the strange events plaguing an isolated seaside town. Readers of the Finn series might see a character or two pop up, so I hope they give it a shot.

I've also been putting the finishing touches on a suspense novella, The White Boy, but I'm not sure of the production schedule yet.

How many Finn books are you planning to write?

I'm not sure. The current series includes three books, The Shadow Broker, Scar Tissue, and The Prison Guard's Son. I'm also planning a novella tie-in that focuses on Little Freddie, a character from the series, but I'm not sure yet how far the series will go.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

The best place to track all things me is on my website, Readers can email me, register for updates, and grab free fiction there.

I'm also on Facebook at and Twitter at

I love to interact with readers, so give me a shout.

This deal has ended but you can read more about the book here.
Kimberly Packard - Love, Identity and Determination in Tornado Alley
FEATURED AUTHOR - Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be found running, asking her dog what’s in his mouth or curled up with a book. She resides in Texas with her husband Colby, a clever cat named Oliver and a precocious black lab named Tully. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of a Christmas novella, The Crazy Yates, and the sequels to Phoenix, Pardon Falls… Read more