It was in my first novel, which has never been published or really seen the light of day, that I first experimented with the idea of a Balkan criminal. To some it may seem disrespectful; but it’s actually quite the opposite.
This may reveal something about me, I’ll regret sharing later, but I’m enthralled with Eastern European criminals. For some it might be southern cowboys, or inner city rap bad boys or maybe even law enforcement officers gone rogue. None of them holds a candle to a Russian mobster or a member of the Serbia mafia.
Without minimizing the violence and destruction, there is an artful brutality to their work. An undeniable ingenuity… they seem immune to some of the more human emotions, perhaps because of the environment they’ve come from. They don’t play by the rules and they’re always on the grift, which are traits writers appreciate.
The Serbia mafia, energized by the black market economy of the Balkan War is particularly interesting, having given birth to the Pink Panther Gang, one of the world’s most daring jewelry theft rings. In fact, it was an Interpol alert about the thieves that sparked my imagination and partially gave rise to Nikola.
Why him? I already had Stoner Halbert, a man on the skids who makes a deal with the devil to save his career. He would have been a big enough job for Olivia, but I wanted to her to have to work harder and, of course, I was plotting a trilogy, so we needed to find something for her to do in the middle installment.
Anyone who has read Dracula, the original, fabulous story of a vampire coming to the new world, should have noticed the threads of nationalism that pulse through the book. In the novel, Dracula makes mention of his ancient bloodlines and his warrior heritage. Dracula is connected to the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the barbarism of the wars and what it did to men. These themes resonated with me as I began to research the history of the Balkans and its connection to the occult. Books like the Tigers Wife, by Téa Obreht, further sparked my interest in Balkan mysticism.
And that is how Nikola, the tall, dark and menacing vampire enemy of Olivia was born. He is a mélange of nationalism, entrepreneurial spirit and supernatural evil. To be a master criminal and immortal is sort of like being able to read the cards at blackjack, what can’t you do?
When Nikola first meets Olivia he sees her as trivial. She inadvertently sets off an investigation into his activities, but he never really believes she has the capacity to destroy him. That’s how the title, Dark Horse, came to be. No one ever sees Olivia coming; she is underestimated at every turn. In the end, Nikola is almost hesitant to harm her, in awe of her tenacity and bravery– perhaps in the same way that Dracula was drawn to Mina and her beauty and courage.
But, you’ll have to read Dark Horse to see how it all turns out.