Orr Agam honed his writing skills at Terra Nova High School, where he was a member of the Class of 2004. He now lives in San Francisco and that is where he penned his latest mystery thriller, “The Fixer’s Mess.”
It’s a humorous look into the mind of a morally warped lawyer whose allegiance to his influential client threatens his future and his safety. It’s Agam’s third Bay Area-based mystery.
After Terra Nova, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in Middle Eastern politics from Ben-Gurion University. When he isn’t writing, he coaches basketball for several San Francisco clubs and high schools.
In the novel, Max Cedar is deemed the “fixer” for his client, hotel mogul Duncan Thomas, who tests his allegiance by asking Cedar to cover up Duncan’s affair with a strippper. When a newspaper reporter Cedar bullies into dropping a story about the affair is found dead and the stripper’s house ransacked, Cedar embarks on a fixing mission of his own to protect his name, reputation and freedom.
Agam answered questions about his life and work post high school in Pacifica. He answered via email.
How did you get into thrillers?
I always enjoyed a suspenseful story, whether it is on the screen or on the page. As I entered my teenage years, I sought out the neo-noir thrillers of the ’90s, especially by directors Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese.
As I grew older, the antagonist as the hero began to be a staple of the type of television I loved, featuring charismatic bad guys you rooted for, such as Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” and Walter White in “Breaking Bad.”
I also began to watch a lot of British detective series. They are well done and capture how the detective and plot feed off each other. A great example is “Luther,” played by Idris Elba, who plays the role of the disillusioned and marginalized detective, and pushes the limits of the law and morality. I also appreciate a plot’s great twist, especially when I didn't see the ending coming, but at the same time is also plausible.
“The Fixer’s Mess” is told through the point of view of Max Cedar, who contains elements both of an antagonist and that of a weary detective. He is a typical “bad guy” who is forced to solve a mystery, all the while reckoning with his dark past.
Who are your favorite authors?
Michael Crichton and John Grisham were my initial favorite authors growing up, which contributed to my intrigue with crime and suspense novels.
I have a soft spot for Hunter S. Thompson. When Max Cedar ends up in Las Vegas in “The Fixer’s Mess,” it is a tip of the hat to Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Since I began seriously writing and exploring the thriller genre, Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva stand out as current masters of their craft.
Tell me about your basketball coaching.
When I returned to the Bay Area some years ago, I began coaching girls and boys middle school basketball in San Mateo. The first team I ever coached won the championship, and after that experience I was hooked. Recently, I started coaching at the high school level during the winter athletic season. I coach several club basketball teams in San Francisco year round. My basic philosophy is to coach the opposite of how I was coached in high school. They discouraged me from shooting a lot of the time, even if I was open or even made the shot. Consequently, I tell every player to shoot with confidence no matter where on the court. … The coaches I encountered growing up were more concerned about the team following their directions than explaining their goals to the team and to the individual player. Shouting at a player for an honest mistake does not help the player or the team. This kind of attitude contributes to a losing culture and diminishes the passion for the game.
Did you play at Terra Nova?
I played all four years and was the starting forward on varsity my senior year. I made long-range 3-point field goals at a high rate before the “Splash Brothers” made it fashionable (for the Golden State Warriors).
What did you read in high school? Who was your favorite teacher?
During my junior year, my English teacher, Jerry Littrell, introduced me to amazing novels and authors, including “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Ken Kesey. Littrell would remember about how he rode on the historical Magic Bus of the 1960s with Ken Kesey, which put the novel in a personal as well as a historical context. His teaching, along with his own stories of the time and the novels, significantly impacted my taste as well as my development as a reader, and now as a writer.