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The Heir Hunter
Delacorte Press
356 pp.



The Wag Chats with
Chris Larsgaard

Thriller writer Chris Larsgaard discusses the pleasures and risks of heir-finding and suggests why no other writer had tackled the subject before.

You did heir-finding for ten years before writing The Heir Hunter. How (and why) did you become an heir finder?

Larsgaard: Essentially, I became an heir finder back in college. A good friend and I acquired a list of unclaimed bank accounts that the state of California was holding. These accounts landed on the list because they had been inactive for a number of years. We determined which ones were owned by deceased people, and then we did genealogical research to determine who the legal heirs were. After my friend got out of college, he started a PI firm which I promptly joined. The firm expanded the scope of the business to include unsettled estates. I decided to take this as a career because I was fascinated by the challenge of each particular case—finding missing people, the research involved, all the "digging under rocks," so to speak. It fed my natural curiosity and need to uncover mysteries. I always felt the work was satisfying in the sense that it helped people by providing them with money they never knew they were entitled to. It makes people happy to bring them money, and that always felt good on my end.

WAG: Private investigators always say that their jobs are nothing like the endlessly exciting, shoot-'em-up experiences thrillers suggest. Does heir-finding have its dangerous side?

Larsgaard: Although much of our work is quite safe, there is a dangerous side. We sometimes need to search for felons in our heir searches. For example, we were working a case once where the heir was a convicted rapist (we eventually dropped the case, not wanting to provide a rapist with money.). We've performed extensive searches in the very worst parts of many major cities for missing heirs. In Italy, a local mob boss threatened to kill one of our investigators. People are generally mistrustful of heir finders, and when these people are hiding from the law, they will sometimes take desperate and violent measures to protect themselves.

WAG: What made you decide to write a book?

Larsgaard: I've always enjoyed writing. English was probably the only subject in which I ever got consistent A's back in my school years. I have an innate desire to write. It's a outlet for me where I can just let creativity flow. It's very liberating, and there are no rules to it except for those you establish in your own mind. Writing a full-length novel seemed to be the ultimate challenge so I took a crack at it.

WAG: Did you know immediately that you wanted the book to be about heir-finding?

Larsgaard: Yes, I knew immediately I wanted the book to be about heir-finding. I had never heard of an heir finder being portrayed in a fiction book before, and I recognized a unique opportunity to present the subject from an insider's perspective. I had a good feeling that the concept would be well-received because it presented a niche of private investigation which few people know about. I knew fiction readers would be interested in the subject if they just had the chance to learn more about it. It really does happen—every day, my firm finds missing people and gives them money. Sometimes it's one heir, sometimes it's one hundred. Just depends on the family tree.

WAG: Why do you think heir-finding hasn't been mined for thriller material before?

Larsgaard: I think it's because so few people know about the industry. Heir-finding is a very specific niche in private investigation, a very competitive, stressful rat-race that few PI's have the stomach for. I'm actually surprised that a book hasn't been written on the subject before; it's something that's rich with possibilities.

WAG: Did writing come easily to you?

Larsgaard: Writing never came easily for me. Although I felt I had a certain aptitude, each paragraph was a struggle. Much of my early material was too rough for publication, but I continually reminded myself of something—writing is rewriting. Words can be changed, sentences rewritten, and chapters reworked. I don't know how some of the masters do it, but for me it was just an awful lot of rewriting. Writing a book really is a perfectionist's nightmare. You never feel like a book is "perfect," even when you're done, but at some point you just have to let it go.

WAG: Did you find yourself modeling your writing (depth of character, cliffhanger chapter endings, mix of narrative and action, etc.) on any particular writer?

Larsgaard: I didn't find myself modeling myself on any particular writer, at least not consciously. I must say that I'm a big fan of James Clavell and his Shogun series, as well as James Lee Burke, Stephen Hunter, and Thomas Perry. These are three very superior writers.

WAG: Is your next book going to be another heir-finding thriller?

Larsgaard: My very next book will not be another heir-finding book. I've decided to try something a bit more daring, although it will involve a few of the same elements of The Heir Hunter such as changed identities and such. I plan on writing another heir-finding book soon, however; I'm seriously thinking of making it a prequel to the original. There's certainly a wealth of material to draw from.

—Interview conducted by Woody Arbunkle

Posted August 1, 2000


Photo Credit: David Sheppard

Chris Larsgaard has been an heir hunter for more than a decade. The Heir Hunter is his first novel. He lives in San Francisco.



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