You don’t have to let your imagination run amok to consider a world in which Russian oligarchs misuse their power and for-profit prisons are cauldrons of misbehavior. Peninsula author Paul McHugh sees such criminal enterprise in his morning newspapers and has put them to good use in his new novel, “The Blind Pool.”
He’ll discuss the book and his penchant for drawing on the news of the day at the next “Brews and Views” discussion at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. The event is free and begins at 6 p.m. on Jan. 4 at the brewery, 390 Capistrano Road, Princeton.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that McHugh uses real-world events as the basis for his fiction. He was a journalist for 40 years, including a long stint as an outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
If elements of his book make him look prescient, McHugh can thank the Panama Papers, which uncovered a vast conspiracy of behind-the-scenes criminal behavior undertaken by powerful people on a global scale. The narrative thread of his thriller, which features flawed heroes battling international criminal forces, could have been pulled directly from news reports of the Panama Papers. His Russian villain even receives citizenship from Malta — the same island nation in real-world turmoil after the death of a journalist who worked to unearth the Panama Papers.
“Every time I turn around there is another news headline that makes it look like I made a good bet,” he said.
McHugh is a fan of the spy novels of John Le Carré. He said he appreciates how the king of the genre puts his characters in real trouble spots in the world. He said he reads three newspapers a day, in part, to better understand the truth-is-better-than-fiction possibilities for his work.
“I’m constitutionally prepared to want to ground my story in as much reality as possible,” the longtime journalist said.
That realism allows McHugh to write with great authority about another problematic modern development: private prisons. He said everyone knows criminals sometimes continue their endeavors behind bars. He had read about corrupt guards. He had only to ask himself, “What if the warden and the owner were in on the criminal activity?”
“What if the criminal’s talents were seen as an asset?” McHugh asked.
That question is answered in “The Blind Pool.”
McHugh is no stranger to the San Mateo County coast. The Redwood City resident regularly surfs and kayaks in Coastside waters and has covered four Mavericks surf events as a journalist. A previous novel, “Deadlines,” was loosely based on his experience covering financial crimes at a coastal conference center.
“I have a lot of friends out there,” he said. “I will try to do right by the Coastside.”