The award-winning writer talks with TheWrap about “The Skin Collector” and why Guy Pearce should play 007
Seventeen years after Jeffery Deaver published “The Bone Collector,” the bestselling author has written a direct sequel titled “The Skin Collector.” It marks the 11th novel in the popular Lincoln Rhyme series — excluding a 2013 short story that was released as a Kindle Single.
“The Bone Collector” was turned into a feature film in 1999 starring Denzel Washington as quadriplegic forensic detective Rhyme and an up-and-coming actress named Angelina Jolie as his partner-turned-lover Amelia Sachs.
Deaver, who resides primarily in Chapel Hill, N.C., recently took a break from writing bestselling crime novels to pen the James Bond book “Carte Blanche.” The award-winner and former journalist spoke to TheWrap about the Lincoln Rhyme series, his writing process, the current state of journalism and who he’d like to see don Bond’s tuxedo.
It’s been 17 years since “The Bone Collector” was published. What made you want to revisit that case and why was now the right time in the Lincoln Rhyme series to write a direct sequel to that book?
I was called “manipulative” by a journalist some years ago, which I took as a compliment. I plan all of my books very carefully. I spend about eight months outlining the story from start to finish before I write a single word of the prose, and I do the same thing for the arc of the entire series.
When I finished “The Bone Collector,” I left the story open. The core of the crime was solved and the bad guy was caught, but I left open a subplot. I came back to it after five or six books, so part of it was resolved, but there were still aspects that were not. So it finally came time to put that subplot to bed so we can move on. That’s really the point of what’s going on in this book.
What’s your process like? How many books are you working on at once? Are you outlining one book while editing another?
I do a book a year, and over the last five years, I’ve also done two books for a short story collection, which involves four or five original stories or novellas. It’d be difficult to outline and research two books at the same time, but it’s pretty easy for me to structure one story and edit prose for another one. That’s the way it works. I call myself a manufacturer of a product. I’m no different than Procter & Gamble. A book is a product of the mind, but it’s a product nonetheless. It’s all planned out ahead of time, and I’ve seen how it has improved my writing. My first books were very plot-driven. There were more surprises, but they were haphazard, and I didn’t sell many of those. I went back and looked at a couple of those books and [learned from those early mistakes].
How do you feel Lincoln and Amelia’s relationship has grown?
In the early books, it was important for me to maintain some friction. In the last few books, I’ve concentrated more on the story — the underlying crime and the subplots — rather than their relationship. Part of it is because I am kind of aging them. They’ve been together for years now. I’m not really aging Kathryn Dance, but I want to take Lincoln’s condition into account through medical techniques. At this point, they’re like a married couple. They’re more comfortable with each other and there’s less angst.
When you have a good idea, how do you know whether it’s better suited to the Lincoln Rhyme series or the Kathryn Dance series?
Well, Lincoln is a forensic scientist and Kathryn is a kinesiologist. She’s a psychology cop, so if the crime is mechanical or scientific, it goes to Lincoln, and if it’s more psychological, it goes to Kathryn. “The Burning Wire” was about using the power grid as a weapon and “The Broken Window” was about data mining, so those were Lincoln stories. A Charles Manson character using psychological coercion, or “XO,” which was about a young woman stalked by a psychotic fan — those are Kathryn stories. You can’t avoid forensics in any crime but the emphasis there was on the psychology of the victim and the villain.
Do you have any plans to kill off one of the supporting characters in the Lincoln Rhyme series, such as Thom Reston, Lon Sellito, Mel Cooper or Ron Pulaski?
The fact of life is, there’s loss. If readers come to feel that there’s no peril in my books they will turn the pages with a bit less velocity than I’d like. I gave Lincoln a friend in “The Stone Monkey” and with careful premeditation, setting up the inevitability as a necessary element of the plot, I killed him. I took a huge amount of flack but I also let readers know that I’m willing to take somebody out.
Two years ago, Summit released “Alex Cross,” an adaptation of the James Patterson series that rebooted the Morgan Freeman movies with Tyler Perry. When are we going to get a sequel to “The Bone Collector?” Hollywood doesn’t make mid-budget thrillers anymore but I’ve been lobbying for Universal to give it another shot, either with Denzel and Angelina again or a younger, cheaper cast.
As far as I know, there is some kind of business reason [it hasn’t happened]. I don’t know if it’s a lawsuit or a dispute of some sort between distributors or who was involved in financing the film, but my understanding is that it’s not a creative issue — it’s a business issue — and in Hollywood, that’s nothing to minimize. I think it would be quite the popular TV show. We’ve seen alternative characters on TV on “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and “Elementary,” the show about Sherlock Holmes, who is a bit like Rhyme. He’s an intellectual hero rather than an action hero. I’ve actually pitched it to TV studios with the caveat that the business stuff would have to be resolved first.
Are any of your other books being adapted for film or television?
I’ve optioned short stories including my novella “Forever,” which is a buddy cop story involving high-tech reincarnation. That was just optioned as a TV show. I’d have to talk to my agent [Ron Bernstein at ICM Partners], but one of the producers of “The Walking Dead” just optioned something as a TV show.
Do you feel the effects of social media at all? Does the access you give fans help your writing? Do they ever give you ideas?
I’ll say that I’m very attuned to what readers like and don’t like. After all, I write for them, not for myself. I don’t have a lot of respect for authors who say “it’s their job to figure me out.” We get paid a lot to think about what’s good for the reader. Is it unique? Is it excessively violent? Could it be told in a different genre? If so, I don’t write it.
But I do want feedback from fans, and adjust accordingly. I was in a bookstore in Laguna Niguel and a woman in her 80s or 90s was reading one of my books as part of the book club in her retirement home. She said, “We read all your books and we have a problem with the violence in your recent books. In ‘The Bone Collector,’ someone was scalded to death and there were rats eating their way through people. In your latest book, you just shoot a few people.”
I remembered that one and wanted to minimize the violence, but people weren’t happy. They like the level or violence. Now I don’t do sexual violence or violence against kids or animals, and most of the crime scenes in my books are off-camera. Hitchcock was a master of that. But she was helpful and I took that to heart and have loosened up a bit. I try to stay away from ideas, because those just get you into hot water. But you can’t be in the arts nowadays without reaching out to fans. I have about 100,000 fans on Facebook and another 10,000 on Twitter. I don’t do it as much as I should because I’m writing so much, but you can’t ignore it now.
As a former journalist yourself, what’s your take on the current state of journalism?
There are islands and tips of the iceberg out there. I have two home pages — The Guardian and the New York Times. I subscribe to the New Yorker online and the paper version, which has some of the best print reporting in the world. I have satellite radio so I listen to NPR all the time in my car. I have very little patience for commercial news on TV and I understand the 24-hour news cycle, but I can’t take Fox [News] or MSNBC seriously. I enjoy Jon Stewart and like [Stephen] Colbert but you have to pick and choose your journalism these days very carefully. Whatever I get from The Guardian is their freebie thing. I pay for the New York Times online subscription. We need to pay journalists and have traditional journalistic values, meaning multi-source attribution and pounding the pavement — walking a beat and getting to know sources — and I don’t see a lot of that. Book reviews are non-existent.
You wrote the recent James Bond novel “Carte Blanche.” Why’d you decide to tackle that assignment and did that book expand the audience for your thrillers?
Well, it certainly did that. I only intended to do one book, unlike [Raymond] Benson, who wrote a dozen in the series. But I did it as a lark because I loved Bond as a kid. I thought I could contribute by bringing him into present day as a young agent while paralleling his personality from the ’50s. Some diehard Bond fans weren’t happy but it did well.
You can’t please everybody, but it was a positive experience for me. The gist of one review was, “is this a hero that we need for the present day?” and my response is, “Yes, I think so.” Just look at headlines recently! My Bond had nothing to do with Ukraine or Crimea but I did kind of sense that we were going back to traditional heroes and villains so I thought, let’s get back to the basics of the big Soviet bear vs. the American eagle. And sure enough, it came true!
Who’s your favorite Bond, and is there anyone you’d like to see take over the role when Daniel Craig is ready to move on?
Sean Connery is my favorite, but if “Carte Blanche” is ever made — Guy Pearce. He looks more like the Bond in my mind more than anyone else and he has the presence. If they want to buy the book and use my input on casting…
What’s next for you?
“Trouble in Mind,” which is a new collection of short stories; a new Kathryn Dance novel set in the Monterrey area; and a new Lincoln Rhyme book for 2016. I’m still thrilled when I see my books in stores.