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Jeffery Deaver: Good, old-fashioned evil

Benedicte Page
April 21, 2006

The Bookseller

Bestselling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, visiting England for the Left Coast Crime festival, is taking gleeful pleasure in misleading his publicist Emma Longhurst about the twists in his latest thriller, The Cold Moon (Hodder, July). She is still half-way through reading the proof, and he has been shamelessly encouraging her to fall for the wrong turn in the story: "At the end, I know she's going to call me," he grins.

In their latest outing, Deaver's wheelchair-bound forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme and his partner Amelia Sachs are up against the Watchmaker, a serial killer who forces his victims to endure prolonged deaths and leaves a clock ticking away beside their corpses as his trademark signature.

The reader follows the inquiry to track the killer down but is also privy to what's going on from the particularly nasty perspective of the Watchmaker's rapist sidekick Vincent, who will send a shudder down your spine.

Deaver will be back in England in July for a full signing tour. The former lawyer (he began writing suspense novels during his daily commute to his Wall Street firm) explains that he is a great believer in getting in touch with his readers.

"Writing is a business. I create a product. A lot of writers don't like to hear me say that," he affirms. "Just as Procter & Gamble don't make liver-flavoured toothpaste because nobody wants it, your products have to be geared to the needs of the market. So you have to get out and talk to your fans.

"I do a lot of events in America, Italy and England, which are my biggest selling markets—I'm on the road for two-and-a-half to three months a year. I really would like to cut back a bit, only because I'm not as young as I used to be."

The villains in The Cold Moon represent a bit of a return to tradition in his novels, he says—and yes, it was as a result of his readers' responses. "My last books have been more issue-oriented—in Garden of Beasts we got onto a bit of politics around American intervention in foreign governments, and The Twelfth Card was about race in America.

"When I toured, I didn't get any negative comments about that, but I did get comments about how people wanted good old solid evil, evil, evil villains—people who are evil just for the sake of being evil, as in The Bone Collector. So it's back to the basics of serious sick and twisted thriller writing, and sweaty palms."

Deaver claims he has more fun creating villains than anything else, but he is careful where he takes his readers in the books. "There are authors who have written these gruesome scenes of torture and murder, and my reaction is that I dislike the villain, but I dislike the author more for subjecting me to a very unpleasant experience. There's a distinction between gore and suspense, and being repulsed is not an entertaining experience."

He's pleased with the entertainment he provides: "They are pretty good thrillers, I have to say. You get what you pay for. It may not be a Ferrari, but it's a good, solid, working Vauxhall."

Body language

Next year Deaver will start a new series, starring Kathryn Dance, a kinesics expert in the California Bureau of Investigation—kinesics is the study of body language and communication used in interrogation to tell whether suspects are lying. Dance makes her first appearance as a minor character in The Cold Moon.

"The way I think about it, I'm not sure I'd want to date that woman," jokes Deaver. "If I'm sitting there on my chair, she'll be thinking: 'Why is he sitting that way?' I think she's going to be a very interesting character. I have a huge file of ideas for themes and plots, and some of them are not suitable for Lincoln Rhyme—he's a Sherlock Holmes involved in crime scene work, and I have some plots that I know would be very page-turning novels that involve very little forensics. Kathryn Dance can be the vehicle for these other stories."

Poison in the vichyssoise

Despite his lean looks, Deaver famously spends much of his spare time over a hot kitchen stove. "I grew up in the mid-West in the 1950s and the typical cuisine involved something overcooked. If it didn't taste good, you put more salt and ketchup on it. So I started cooking when I was very young because I wanted to eat!

"When I was married, my wife didn't like to cook, so I did all the cooking and entertaining. I've been writing full-time now for 16 years, living alone and working alone, so I make it a rule to have a big dinner party every two weeks at least."

He lists his best dishes in the last month: coq au vin; korma with almonds; gazpacho; bouillabaisse; cream tikka; and vichyssoise. "For my Christmas party we had a lobster bisque with caviar, then a big bourguignon."

Food rarely features in Deaver's thrillers because Lincoln Rhyme is too busy solving crimes to sit down to a lengthy dinner. "But I have an outline for a book on poison, and that's where it'll figure."