Crime fiction that thrills

2008-09-11 00:00

Stephen Coan

“I am a crime writer, I don’t write about world affairs,” says American author Jeffery Deaver who was

in Pietermaritzburg recently launching his new thriller The Broken Window featuring the quadriplegic forensics specialist Lincoln Rhyme and a killer whose most dangerous weapon is information stolen from corporate and government databases.

Deaver admits the theme is more topical than most of his titles and says he had a personal motivation in writing the book. “I was a victim of identity theft four years ago — it wasn’t my fault — they charged $2 000 to my account. I got the money back but the real problem was that it took two years to get my credit back. As you find in the book, the problem is not that humans can’t understand the problem and sort it out, it’s that computers don’t understand!”

The Broken Window features a data corporation that has all the details on just about everybody.

“I raise issues of national security — and such things do happen, though not quite to the extent that happens in the book,” says Deaver. “But I’m not out to preach. I go along with Ernest Hemingway’s saying ‘If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.’ My job is not to preach, it’s to tell a story, to write a roller coaster. The theme of the invasion of privacy mustn’t slow the story down.”

Slowing down is something foreign to Deaver. “I write at the same time as I’m on tour.” And with two new books coming up in the next year, touring can be a near all-year affair. “I don’t get much downtime but I also breed and show dogs — briards — with my partner. She couldn’t come along to South Africa because we just had a litter.” Deaver and his partner live in North Carolina near Washington DC “and I have a little place in California, at Pacific Grove on the coast.”

Within the crime genre Deaver describes himself as a thriller writer, noting the distinction between a murder mystery and a thriller. “A mystery answers the question ‘what happened?’. A thriller asks the question ‘what is going to happen?’. In every chapter of my books, if not every page, I like to remind the reader that something is going to happen next and to get them wondering what will it be?”

“I’m a plot-driven author. It’s all about story, and the characters must have depth, they must not be superficial.”

Deaver spends eight months on the plot outline while simultaneously doing the research. “I consider myself as a businessman who wants to get his product to as many people as possible.” He is clearly a successful one, having written 23 novels and sold over 20 million books worldwide. He has been a Sunday Times Bestseller in this country with his last 10 books.

Alhough Deaver has also written several stand-alone thrillers he’s best known for his series featuring such characters as Rhyme, Hollywood location scout John Pellam and his new character Kathryn Dance, an expert in interrogation and kinesics first featured in The Sleeping Doll. “People love to spend time with characters they know,” Deaver says. “They also like a body of work to draw on. If they enjoyed one book then there are others they can go and read.”

The quadriplegic Rhyme is Deaver’s best-known character and has featured in eight novels as well as next year’s Roadside Crosses. Why did Deaver decide to create a quadriplegic character?

“About 15 years ago I was trying to come up with a different sort of character, one with a different appeal,” he says. “I decided to create a hero who was physically disabled — who was unable to beat up the villain; he had to out-think the villain. At first I had him paralysed from the waist down but I thought that was a cop out, it was too easy, so I thought let’s make him quadriplegic and see what happens.”

What happened was The Bone Collector. “The movie rights were sold before it was published. Then

it was published and the fans loved it. I firmly believe in writing for my fans, some authors say ‘I write for myself’, not me, I write for my fans and consider what they will want to read.”

The feature film starred Denzel Washington as Rhyme which may seem odd because, although the character’s colour is really immaterial, he is clearly white, not that Deaver has any complaints about the movie makeover. “Denzel really wanted to do the role.”

The character has seen Deaver garner awards from disabled rights groups. “The general thrust of what they say is that I had portrayed a quadriplegic person not in an idealised way or a negative way, but in a realistic light.”

Alhough Deaver might do realism he treads lightly when it comes to the violence. “I don’t believe in depicting gore and viscera,” he says. “I don’t hurt children or animals.” Slight pause. “Though I might imperil them a little bit.”

“My goal is that I want a reader to walk away feeling entertained and exhilarated, they mustn’t leave one of my books feeling soiled or dirty.”

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