Jeffery Deaver has spent the last few weeks in the UK promoting 'The Stone Monkey', his latest novel featuring his crime-fighting duo Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, in a timely tale of 'human smuggling' set against the backdrop of New York's Chinatown. The novel is propelled with desperate time-pressure, and twisted plotting that have become his hallmarks (Full review in Crime Report section). In fact, one of his less well written-about characters in his work is 'The Clock' - or the time pressure he forces into his plots which in turn works a sense of urgency making them a unique, edgy and sweaty read.
Jeffery Deaver’s previous careers includes law and journalism before reaching that pinnacle of full-time writer. His short stories, like his novels, feature plot twists that can make your head spin like Linda Blair. A prime example of this was the cyber crime classic of last year, 'The Blue Nowhere' pitting his protagonists against the clock in the search of a truly evil Uber-Hacker. 'The Blue Nowhere' is a good illustration of just how good thrillers can really get, in so far as time is suspended as you tear through the story and come up against a startling climax(es). He has the ability to drop his characters into a pressure-cooker atmosphere, turn up the heat, and then set the timer. You sweat as the pressure builds and the clock ticks.
It is however with his Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs series that you can see Deaver at the height of his powers, further developing his characters, and pitting them against enormous odds, from 'The Bone Collector', 'The Coffin Dancer', 'The Empty Chair' right up to the latest book 'The Stone Monkey'. Jeffery now alternates between the series novels and standalones such as the surreal 'The Devils Teardrop' which stormed the UK charts a few years back.
He graciously took time out of his tight schedule to talk to SHOTS Magazine about crime writing, Lincoln and Amelia. A Jeffrey Deaver novel is like one of his famous banquets - exotic, unusual, challenging and with as many courses as plot-twists always accompanied to the sound of an impatient ticking clock in background.
Welcome to the pressure cooker world of Jeffery Deaver
Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to Shots Magazine, and welcome to Milton Keynes.
My pleasure, and thanks for asking me.
Lincoln and Amelia return in ‘The Stone Monkey’ but before we talk about the book, can you tell us from where these amazing characters came from?
A Lincoln and Amelia…They came out of two ideas, the first coming out of the thriller writer side of me, I liked the idea of a book, and I'm speaking of 'The Bone Collector' (the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series). I liked the idea of a story in which my hero was completely helpless in the final scene, and I mean completely physically helpless - so the bad guy is hovering over him with a weapon of some kind intent in doing him harm and there is apparently no way for him to escape. I wanted to instil in my readers a sense that there is no way the author's going to pull it off, especially as I'd set up that Lincoln wanted to kill himself, because he's a quadriplegic (for the readers unfamiliar with the series). Lincoln's paralysed and he's considering what we call in America 'Assisted Suicide' or 'Euthanasia' so I wanted the readers to think, well he wanted to die anyway….but in fact he's instilled with the will to live, and in fact I am able to pull that out of the fire, so to speak. That was my 'manipulative' sense of Lincoln Rhyme. My other concept is a more broad one, it's that I wanted to create a hero who was 'universal' - I wanted to create a Sherlock Holmesian kind of character that uses his mind rather than his body. He solves crimes by thinking about the crimes rather than someone who can shot straight, run faster, or walk into the bar and trick people into giving away the clues, because we've seen a lot of that.
Amelia came abou because these books are thrillers; these books are crime stories and we needed someone who can shoot, who can drive a fast car, who can walk into bars and if someone does give her difficulties she can pull out a switchblade and hold it against their throat, and say 'You know what? You're going to jail'. So I wanted the combination of the two, but I also wanted the roles a little bit reversed, and I didn’t even think about 'The Bone Collector' becoming a series, but the popularity of the Characters has been so extreme that I kept on going and have been delighted to do so.
They're wonderful characters, now what about Rune and John Pellam from your earlier books? Where did they come from?
These are characters born a long time ago. Rune in the 1980's and Pellam also in the 1980's but perhaps more toward the end of that decade. Rune is, what we in the States call, a 'Downtown Diva' - a young woman who lived in the 1980's club scene, believes in the human spirit, is irrepressible, a bit like the Holly Golightly Character from Breakfast at Tiffany's from the Truman Capote Story. She's someone full of energy, and really accepts the apparent good side of people, but when they turn out to be bad, she pursues them as an amateur Private Eye. She's a really fun character, youthful around 18 to 19 years old and I wrote three books featuring her adventures. She is an individual that to me encapsulated (I felt) life in Manhattan in the 1980's which was a very unique time in the city. I lived there then, I was practising law at that point.
John Pellam - is my homage to 'Shane' the character in the great George Stevens movie of the same name, based originally on the wonderful western novel by Jack Schaefer. So John Pellam is a Hollywood Location Scout who comes to town and finds some form of crime, and he is the stranger who solves the crime and renders justice, exposes evil and moves on to somewhere else. The series were not too successful when they first came out, but are now quite successful as often happens when popular authors early books become rediscovered. I will say that they do tend to be more traditional mystery novels than crime.
You were a Lawyer prior to becoming a full-time writer. Can you tell us a little about your
Do you mean my apprenticeship period as lawyer?
No, no - your apprenticeship as a writer …laughs…
(Laughing) Right…no one wants to know about laywers. I've always written ever since I was 10 or 11 years old. I was the editor of a literary magazine in school, I wrote poetry, I wrote songs, I was a journalist for a time, but those were all ways to support myself as I cast about trying to become a full time professional fiction writer. It was not until my thirties that I really turned my attention to commercial fiction that I thought might allow me write full time. The thing about writing is that Mozart may have composed when he was 4 years old, and Picasso may well have painted when he was quite young, but authors of fiction I believe need to have lived life, and so I cast about looking for various outlets for my writing in my twenties, but I didn't really seriously pursue it until I'd been a journalist, until I'd travelled around the world and I felt comfortable and felt old enough to write novels, I would never say 'mature' enough, but I guess old enough.
Fast-forwarding to today. Your books are often very topical, with last years’ ‘The Blue Nowhere’ – probing what Thomas Harris referred to as ‘The damp floor of the Internet’. Firstly, can you tell us about the mechanics behind ‘The Blue Nowhere’, especially as so much of the action centres around a keyboard and what research you did to make it so realistic?
It was a real challenge for me to make a compelling story about individuals who are 'Black Hat' and 'White Hat' hackers and I knew right away that there is nothing so boring as watching someone at a computer keyboard all day. The scenes at the computer keyboard (that we do need to have) all have hovering over them the fact that simultaneously (with the person at the keyboard) something terrible is about to happen that we know about, and those characters may or may not know about. This makes it tense for the reader, but I had to in every scene, that entails someone at a keyboard, they either need to get information from somebody or a victim will die, or need to figure out what on earth is going on to try and track down where the bad fellow is. By the same token I certainly didn’t create a sympathetic villain, but I created a villain who has his own agenda, and that we are not going to feel…gosh I wish he gets to the victim….I still tried to impose a sense of urgency in his mind, as he too is fighting the clock, as the good fellows are trying to track him down. So that was quite a challenge.
With regard to the research, I had spent 8-months doing an outline, during the 8-months I had to learn about the Internet, which I knew basically nothing (apart from what a lay-person would know).
Well, it was very successful, and the end sequence was stunning with the villains not being all that you thought they were.
‘The Stone Monkey’, just out in hard cover, is again very contemporary, with the issue of immigration and asylum seekers making regular political news in Europe. Could you tell us a little about how you came to pit Amelia and Lincoln against the snakeheads?
Yes, sure. A typical Deaver book involves a short time frame, a number of deadlines all leading up to a big twist, and ideally another twist, and if I'm lucky and I can work it in - a third twist. It seemed to me a very compelling story to have potential victims in a rather exotic setting with that clock ticking - that's my typical Lincoln Rhyme scenario. I could pick a number of crimes for that, but I can't pick say a legal thriller, as that is a little more leisurely.
So I was thinking what would be a compelling idea? I was aware of 'snakeheads' and of 'human smuggling' in England you call them 'asylum seekers' in the US we refer to them as 'illegal immigrants' - but they are the same thing. Well I thought that would fit very nicely in my framework, and it would also allow me to add a certain depth to the characters - because you can have the best plot in the world, but if you don’t care about the characters, the whole thing becomes meaningless.
My whole goal is to create the most emotional experience for the readers that I can, so the ruthlessness of these 'snakeheads' - their willingness to kill women and children, and innocent men, certainly seemed to me to be a 'shoe-in' for a Lincoln Rhyme adventure.
One thing that you may not be aware of is that both you (in ‘The Stone Monkey’) and Harlan Coben (in ‘Gone for Good’) named your bad guy as ‘The Ghost’. Would you care to comment about this?
Hey! I didn’t know that, that's very funny.
What are the future plans for Amelia/Lincoln, and are we ever likely to see a solo Amelia Adventure?
No, we'll never see that, but I am going to show you the next Lincoln Rhyme book, its on disc.
Jeffery Deaver twirls a computer disc and then quickly stuffs it back into his pocket.
I saw your eyes light up then, I'm going to have to frisk you after the interview!
No need, after reading 'The Blue Nowhere' I came across a gadget and software that can read hard drives and discs from distances…laughing…..I've got one in my bag….
(Laughing) don't worry it's encrypted. The book is actually entitled 'The Vanished Man' and it features both Lincoln and Amelia. I have no intention to do separate Amelia and Lincoln Stories. My number one responsibility is to my readers and readers like Lincoln and Amelia. I will do non-Lincoln Rhyme books and in fact the book I'm planning for 2004 is a historical book set in 1936, the book after that will be another Lincoln Rhyme book, so I sort of alternate.
We’ve heard that The Oxford University Press has commissioned you to write the introduction to a new annotated edition of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. Can you tell us a little about it, and how it came about?
It's out now, and I thought it would be a fun thing to do, and estimated that I could shoot this thing over a weekend. It turned out to be like writing a term paper in college again, my goodness I could not make up things! I had to rely on the facts - it was quite disturbing to me. But seriously I enjoyed it a great deal. They commissioned me, as they have a series of classics that they are re-issuing (with popular thriller writers introducing them). I think Stephen King's done one. I had great fun doing it, I hadn't read it for many years and it truly is an epiphany as a work of modern fiction and very complex on several levels.
You also publish a number of short stories, and I particularly enjoy the ‘Twists’ you put in. I enjoyed ‘Beautiful’ from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Will you release a collection of short stories any time soon?
Yes, next year. I have around 28 to 30 stories and I'll do an original one for that anthology, and then compile all of them in a single edition. We don’t have a title at this time, but plan a release in late 2003.
You’ve revised and re-released ‘Mistress of Justice’ in the US and believe it’s due out in the UK soon. Can you tell us how that came about?
I've re-written all my earlier books actually, I want to make them faster paced, less digressive, less observational I guess. With ‘Mistress of Justice’, I wanted to make it more of a thriller, so I cut some scenes, added some scenes and so it's quite a different book now, and I think readers will enjoy it much more.
Your first published works were ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Always a Thief’ which are now out of print, and turn up on ebay for some ridiculous prices. Will you do the same in re-releasing them.
That will never happen.
On the social side, we hear that you a remarkable cook and love to entertain. Can you tell us about what you like to cook and what cuisine you favour? And did you eat ethnic cuisine while writing ‘The Stone Monkey’.
Well I've always eaten ethnic cuisine, and in fact cook Chinese food quite often. I'll do anything, in fact I recently did a Medieval Banquet for about 65 people using original recipes from an Elizabethan cook-book, and I even served Mead, which I frankly found disgusting, but some people enjoyed it. I then did a Roman Banquet for again about 65, and also I do a lot of Indian Cooking, I did also a German Party at Oktoberfest. I do Spanish Tapas, really any type of cuisine. As I live alone, I find it very important to maintain an active social life, so I'll have friends over as I like to cook, but I also get invited out, but I rather like cooking - you know wine, sharp knives, warm pans with my dog at my feet, hey I'd cook up a storm.
What’s your thoughts on the problems faced by 'The mid-list writer' at the moment, as it seems to me that it has become increasingly more difficult for the mid-list writer to survive or even move up into the best seller league?
Frankly I don’t have too many thoughts on that. There will always be room for good quality story-telling as people are intrigued by new characters out there, and the mid-list to me seems more a function of circumstance than nature or quality of the writing.
I can't speak for any other genre, but I feel there will always be a market for good quality thrillers. However after September 11, the global economy has been affected, and I feel that the market for books, like many other industry's has just shrunk, and this is not a factor on the quality of the books out there, it’s a function of the market shrinking. I just hope it's temporary, as there are many fine writers out there that deserve to get into print.
With that note we would just like to thank you for your time today, and wish you success with 'The Stone Monkey' - a remarkable novel, and personally I am really looking forward to the short story collection, and its been a real pleasure talking with you.
Very good, and a big thanks to all my readers in Europe, and take care Ali.
SHOTS wish to thank Jeffery Deaver, Hodder & Stoughton Publishing, Christopher Glasgow of Ottakars Milton Keynes, and Jude Davis of Waterstones Manchester for their help in organising this interview and profile.
'The Stone Monkey' is available as a Hodder & Stoughton Hardcover priced £14-99
'The Blue Nowhere' is available as a Coronet Paperback priced £6-99
Deaver’s earlier novels have been re-released, including the John Pellam novels (which he wrote as William Jefferies) plus the 'Rune' series under the paperback Coronet imprint.