Author Talk: June 4, 2010
Jeffery Deaver’s latest thriller, THE BURNING WIRE, finds quadriplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme on the heels of a killer who commits his murders using the city’s electrical grid. In this interview, Deaver explains his criteria for “assigning” the cases in his novels to new or existing protagonists, and discusses the influence of the New York setting over his main character’s story arc. He also talks about what motivated him to create the series’ villain, The Watchmaker, and sheds light on Lincoln’s ongoing battle with his physical disability.
Question: A killer using the electrical grid to terrorize a city --- very scary stuff. When you get inspiration like that for a story, how do you decide whether it calls for Lincoln Rhyme or Kathryn Dance, or is better suited for a stand-alone novel?
Jeffery Deaver: I do indeed spend time deciding which of my existing, or new, protagonists gets to take on a case. I guess I could call it the square peg/round hole situation. Lincoln, for instance, is a scientist, so he tends to take on the more technical crimes, like the data mining case of THE BROKEN WINDOW. Kathryn is a more people-oriented law enforcer, so she gets the more psychological crime dramas. Some stories, like THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND, require me to create wholly new characters, since the framework and back stories of the existing books wouldn't work too well. Besides, I always enjoy scaring readers that I'll kill off my hero in a stand-alone!
Q: When you write about Lincoln Rhyme, how much does the city of New York inspire his story?
JD: I lived in New York for nearly twenty years and consider it the most fascinating, rewarding and challenging city on earth. I try to make it a character in each of the Lincoln Rhyme books, as much as he himself or Amelia is. As for New York inspiring him, yes, it inspires him a great deal. I've often said that there isn't much of myself in my novels, but Lincoln, like me, has an abiding fascination with, and loyalty to, New York, and I try to make sure that spirit comes through. Nobody's gonna mess with Lincoln Rhyme's beat!
Q: Along with the main plot, THE BURNING WIRE also brings back the Watchmaker, the only criminal who has outsmarted Lincoln Rhyme. Why did you choose to create an ongoing nemesis for Lincoln?
JD: Ah, the Watchmaker…. I can't tell you how much fan mail I get about him. Everybody wants to know if Lincoln's finally going to get him, or the other way around! I think every Sherlock Holmes needs a Professor Moriarty, James Bond needs his Blofeld --- it's the brilliance of the antagonists that bring out the brilliance of the heroes. In fact, I think the bad guys should be more brilliant than the good guys --- otherwise, when (or if) the villains are defeated, we feel less satisfaction because our protagonists didn't have to work so hard.
Q: THE BURNING WIRE includes just about all of the series regulars. Do you have a favorite among the secondary characters? Maybe Fred Dellray or Lon Sellitto or Thom? Do you know if there is a clear reader favorite?
JD: Interestingly, in THE BURNING WIRE, we see major subplots involving several of the secondary characters --- subplots that could have rather troubling outcomes (about which I'll say no more). Both the FBI's Dellray and Patrol Office Ron Pulaski get themselves into some pretty tough situations in this book. But, on the whole, I suppose my favorite of the supporting cast is Thom, Rhyme's patient caregiver. Here, we see a whole new side of the young man.
Q: THE BURNING WIRE mentions Homeland Security, the FBI, the NYPD, the CBI, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the DEA, and even the Mexican Federal Police. It's a real alphabet soup of organizations working together. Is this an accurate reflection of the state of police work today? Or are you trying to make a point about the system?
JD: Oh, it can be quite complicated, especially with the jurisdictional issues. In general, law enforcers are extremely cooperative…they're all working toward a common good. But like everyone in government or business, for that matter, there are egos and ambitions involved, for good and for bad. That's the way of the world. I try to accurately portray those conflicts, on top of the others that occur in the book. After all, the point of my book is to --- if I may borrow from Stephen King --- throw all my characters in a pressure cooker and turn the heat up as high as it will go.
Q: Do you worry that the things you write about will actually come true? Are your fears inspiration for your work? And if so, is it cathartic to write about it?
JD: No, I'm never very concerned that terrorists, for instance, will use what I write about to put together a plot. For one thing, I never give enough technical information to allow, in this case, for instance, a perpetrator to actually get into the grid in New York City and shut it down. But I have to say I've already gotten some publicity because, before the book was even announced, there were rumors of attempts to hack into the grid in Los Angeles, I think. I don't know how prescient I was, though; I just liked the idea of these huge ten-foot long electrical sparks leaping out of lampposts and metal plates on the sidewalks! As for my fears, well, I'm afraid they wouldn't make very compelling novels…unless falling off a ladder into a pit of poisonous snakes was part of the plot.
Q: Lincoln Rhyme has mixed feelings about his disability. In this book, he contemplates that his disability may actually be one of the reasons he's so good at what he does --- no distractions to his mind. And yet he wants to improve his physical condition, if he can, for obvious reasons. You've evolved his feelings about his disability with each book, and his condition has changed over the years. Why did you decide to introduce these issues into the series and not just keep the status quo?
JD: It's important for thrillers (I'll go so far as to say most, if not all, novels) to be driven by conflict. Authors need to make sure the readers continually ask themselves, what's going to happen? Certainly the central crime is the main question readers are interested in. But there should be other conflicts too, and some of the most important are those about the emotional and psychological well being of the characters we care about. Lincoln has always wanted to improve his physical condition, if possible. At the same time, he understands that dangerous medical procedures could kill him or make him worse off and then he'd be unable to pursue what he feels is his "mission" --- being the best forensic scientist in New York, if not the country. I bring that conflict to the fore in THE BURNING WIRE.
Q: After all the research you did on power for this book, do you have an opinion on the energy issues the world faces?
JD: Yes, I do. One of the more interesting characters in the book is an inventor, who works for the power company. His job is to find ways to make our use of energy more efficient, which is something we should all be doing. Everybody talks about green, which if fine --- but that's a long-term solution. For the time being we need to conserve and be more efficient about existing energy sources. There's an astonishing amount of wasted energy out there. Most important, though, is the issue of energy in the political sphere. For instance, at the cost of a few thousand dollars, remote villages in Africa, say, can become electrified. That means better living conditions and consistent access to media, which will help in education and the fight against AIDS, dictatorship, hunger and so on. Energy independence is an important goal too, given today's shifting global alliances. Oh, and one other thing I learned about electricity: Under the right (or wrong) circumstances a hair dryer can kill you just as efficiently as an electric chair, so I'm really, really careful about unplugging appliances now!
© Copyright 2010, Jeffery Deaver. All rights reserved.
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