They say you should write about what you know. While Sharon’s Peter Steiner has never been a disillusioned ex-spy, there are plenty of things he knows about and understands in the personality of his protagonist, retired CIA agent Louis Morgon.
Morgon, driven from a successful career at the State Department, has moved to a cottage in France, where he takes up painting, grows vegetables and flowers and eats leisurely meals on the terrace.
His creator is also an artist who spends a good portion of his time in rural France, where he absorbs the cultural milieu so enjoyed by his literary creation. Even Steiner’s past as a professor of German literature was plumbed in his third Morgon novel, The Resistance, where Morgon explores what happened in a small French village during the Nazi occupation.
In four thrillers, Steiner has pitted his protagonist against villains as diverse as the U.S. Secretary of State, assassins and terrorists. Now, Steiner has directed his aging hero’s attention toward more current issues in his fifth novel, The Capitalist.
Steiner, whose career morphed from teacher to New Yorker cartoonist to writer, says he is never at a loss for a new adventure for Morgon. “There’s always something going on in the world,” he said. “There are always a lot of messes that are interesting to research and write about.”
He worked on his current novel for four years “in response to the 2008 crash and all the venality and greed that went with it.” In the story, Wall Street investment banker St. John Larrimer “is sort of a Bernie Madoff type, but when the market crashes, he’s smarter than Madoff and gets out of the country. Morgon is affected by this guy’s greed and goes after him.”
The author, who likes to explore the moral implications of his plots, said he first called the book Capitalism. “I wanted it to be about what’s wrong with the capitalist system, which always ends up in catastrophes caused by greed and malevolence.”
He said his novels have “gotten more and more political in a broad sense. The third novel, which was about terrorism, was the turning point. The next was about the resistance and dealt a lot with the past. It talks about French Resistance and the difficulty of living under a totalitarianism regime where, if you want to survive and get along, you have to say yes to bad stuff—and, if you resist, you have to say yes to bad stuff.”
Steiner said that his lead character has matured over the course of the novels. “He’s a living being in my mind, with a distinctive personality. When he is defrocked by the CIA and moves to France, he is youngish middle-aged, now he’s 75. He’s living in France, trying to mind his own business—but he can’t. He’s a man for whom injustice is an itch that can’t be ignored.”
Steiner is writing a sixth Morgon thriller, this one concerned with ISIS.
The artist in Steiner has not been set aside entirely while he writes. He has just completed a graphic novel entitled An Athiest in Heaven about a non-believer who dies and finds himself facing God.
“It’s a book-length theological conversation that combines writing and drawing,” he said, adding that he will publish it in a limited edition. “I will probably publish one hundred on really nice paper, hardbound, numbered and signed,” he said. “Then I would like to find a publishing deal. I’ve showed around and some people expressed interest.”
Steiner will read from and sign The Capitalist Sunday, March 20, at 4PM at the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon. He will also talk about his career as a writer and read from his new work-in-progress. Refreshments will be served. For further information, call the library at 860-364-5041 or visit www.hotchkisslibrary.org.
Editor's note: For the banner we chose the sheep from one of Peter's cartoons - for obvious reasons.