Montana Public Radio

'Sweeney On The Rocks' With Allen Morris Jones

Jul 11, 2019

"Think Goodfellas with a screenplay by Donald E. Westlake, set in the landscape of A River Runs through It―a unique and tasty treat for crime-fiction fans."―Booklist (starred review)

Sweeney on the Rocks

The following highlights are from a conversation with Allen Morris Jones about his noir mystery novel, "Sweeney On The Rocks." To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: In whose tradition of crime writing are you following?

Allen Morris Jones: You would have to call it noir, I’m sure. But it’s also a little tongue-in-cheek. What I found as a writer, almost against my better instincts, I couldn’t take myself too seriously, writing the book. I’m a middle-aged white guy from Montana writing about Italian Wise Guys. If I’m going to do this, I think it would be a mistake to take myself too seriously. As the writer, I found a little bit of satire helped the work; it gave it a little bit of energy.

Your main character, Cosimo ‘Cosmo’ Aniello came to be Ted Sweeney. Can you tell a piece of that story?

As the novel opens we see our hero Ted Sweeney coming home from a hard day as a handyman and looking forward to popping a beer and watching some baseball. Someone has deposited a body in his favorite easy chair, his “old pal of a piece of furniture.” That then triggers the story. So here is Ted Sweeney, an affable everyman in Montana, and rather than doing what most of us would do in that situation, which is to call the police and let the machine take over, for him the most logical thing to do is to get rid of the body. He dumps it in the Yellowstone River, and from that point we learn he has a much more complicated history than anyone else in this fictionalized little Montana town.

How much do you share with Ted Sweeney and in what ways are you very different?

In some ways he’s the furthest thing from me of any character I’ve written. He has a background in pathological violence and through the course of the novel we recognize how he has tried to grow away from that. He recognizes his faults and is trying to be a better person, but then he regresses. As the novel proceeds we see this guy whom we thought we knew as being kind of an admirable pillar of the community fall back on his original background which is violent and self-serving. He rationalizes violence.

What was it like to embody this rude, unfiltered position? How did you reconcile some of the more rough parts of the book?

There were a couple moments in the book where I really struggled with the idea: should I include this or not? I wrote them and then I took a step back and said is this going to lose the reader? I’m trying to create a complicated character but you want him to be sympathetic as well. How far can you push the envelope? At one point he stumbles across a scenario where a really reprehensible character is getting ready to film child pornography and that gives our hero Sweeney an opportunity to really show his bad gangster side—it’s in reaction against the villain. But there’s another scene where he loses track of himself and commits an act of domestic violence. That one was really difficult for me. It’s like, do I include this, because this is a really bad thing for somebody to do. Then I thought this is actually probably true to the character. He was a really awful person but he is trying to grow past it, so maybe it’s not a bad thing to show this aspect of his personality.

About the Book:

Ted Sweeney. Affable everyman in small town Montana. Ten minutes ago, his biggest worry had been how to pay for the engagement ring rattling around in his pocket. But that was before he came home to find a corpse tidily arranged in his favorite recliner. Is it a warning or a setup or what?

Sweeney dumps the body into the Yellowstone River without attracting attention. But over the next few days, as the corpse tumbles its way downstream, Sweeney's complicated past starts rolling into the unflattering light. His is a story that includes the waning days of Italian wise guys in Brooklyn, the rise of the Russian mafia, and his own reluctant retreat into the witness protection program. Throw in a bag of uncut diamonds, an ex-wife turned county sheriff, a beloved mentor that might or might not be dead, and a former mistress cashing in favors, and we have Sweeney on the Rocks, a traditional crime novel with the sensibilities of literature.

Allen Morris Jones

About the Author:

Allen Morris Jones is the author of two previous novels—Last Year's River (A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick), A Bloom of Bones (A Montana Book Award honor book)—a highly-regarded consideration of the ethics of hunting, A Quiet Place of Violence, and a children's book, Montana for Kids (a 2019 Spur Award winner). He has worked as a magazine editor, a book editor, and publisher of his own small business, Bangtail Press.