The Story Behind ‘A Despicable Profession’ by John Knoerle

My new novel is titled A Despicable Profession. It is Book Two of the American Spy Trilogy. Here is how I came to write it:

As a young man I cut my teeth on the masters of hardboiled detective fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dash Hammett, with a shot of James M. Cain on the side. However, while their dialogue crackled and their gaudy people and gritty places leapt off the page, I always felt there was something missing. The stories were too small, trapped inside their own seedy world.

The other literary masters I came to admire – Charles McCarry, John le Carré and Ken Follett – didn’t often feature the snappy patter and lurid characters I so enjoyed in hardboiled fiction. What these novelists did have was a bigger tale to tell, a story that had the potential to affect everyone in the United States, or Western Europe, or the whole damn world.

So why not combine the two? The oily charm of hardboiled fiction married to the big picture sweep of the spy thriller? You might argue that Ian Fleming’s James Bond series had already merged the two genres decades ago. I would agree that Fleming tried. But Ian Fleming the writer, in my opinion, was not worthy of carrying Raymond Chandler’s pencil box.

I’m probably not worthy either but I do try my heart out. Melding the rat-a-tat style of detective fiction with the ponderous substance of the spy novel has proved quite a challenge. The only way forward that I could see was to create a young protagonist, as opposed to the traditional lead character in both spy and detective novels – a middle-aged man well-seasoned by life.

Hal Schroeder, the hero of A Despicable Profession, is only 25 years old. He is not well-seasoned. He is young and cocky enough to think he has all the answers. His immaturity drives the action, as we watch Hal learn the painful lessons that veteran agents like le Carré’s George Smiley already know.

Too many spy novels, in this man’s opinion, are steeped in cynicism, which breeds lethargy. The protagonist does what needs to be done, coolly, professionally. But without passion.  Not Hal Schroeder. He thinks he’s a cynical hard guy but his youthful enthusiasm always gets the better of him. Which is usually, but not always, for the best.

Find out more about Hal at

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John Knoerle was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1949 and migrated to California with his family in the 1960s. He has worked as a stand-up comic, a voiceover actor and a radio reporter. He wrote the screenplay for “Quiet Fire,” which starred Karen Black and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, and the stage play “The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club,” an LA Time’s Critics Choice. John also worked as a writer for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Knoerle’s first novel, Crystal Meth Cowboys, published in 2003, was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, The Violin Player,won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. Knoerle is currently at work on The American Spy Trilogy. Book One, A Pure Double Cross, came out in 2008. Book Two, A Despicable Profession, was published in August of 2010.

John Knoerle currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Judie.

You can visit his website at


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