THE POISONOUS PERFECT CRIME (NOVEL)
by ROBERT W. WALKER, aka Evan Kingsbury & Geoffrey Caine --
author of KILLER INSTINCT and 42 suspense and horror novels
IF you're going to seriously pursue "police procedural" and "investigative-based novels" or what some call "The Crime Novel" and what I often call the Horror Based Reality novel, first let me tell you that you're headed in the right direction. There's a hue and cry for the perfect crime that should not go unheeded. Crime is always in fashion. Crime novels, such as Postmortem, Silence of the Lambs and my own fairly recent, not so long ago published ABSOLUTE INSTINCT, Grave Instinct, and Final Edge titles, are at an all time premium. Horror's fine, like SF and Fantasy are fine when it's hot and selling up the ying-yang, but when it grinds to a halt (and it apparently has because some bozos in NYC have talked themselves into this bleak corner), then a natural progression for you is to go the way of Dean Koontz, Thomas Harris, William Bayer and perhaps Robert W. Walker. My DEAD ON comes out next spring from Five Star, and already it is garnering great responses from those who’ve had a sneak peek. But my advice to you, my friends, is read anything you can get your hands on by Koontz, Harris and Bayer.
Edna Buchannan’s first true crime book’s good too. As are many true crime tales. For something more current, read Earl Merkel’s Virgins and Martyrs.
Back on Course: Here's the MUST READ List for any would-be Crime Novelist: Some of these titles were suggested to me by Dean Koontz, Ed Gorman, Stuart Kaminsky and other friends who slowed down long enough to offer ME advice.
---Jurgen Thorwald for Science and Crime (a history of scientific detection and anything else by this man. This book gave me the germ of an idea for my City for Ransom, Shadows in White City, and City of the Absent. Thank you, Dean Koontz.
---Benjamin Walker -- The Beast Within (if you can find it). Arcane, uncanny stuff.
-- Anything written by a REAL LIFE coroner
-- Michael Baden (NYC coroner) UNNATURAL DEATH
--Thomas Noguchi (LA coroner) Not so much his novels as his memoirs -¬CORONER
--Milton Helpern (NYC coroner) AUTOPSY
--Lewis & McDonell (blood experts) THE EVIDENCE NEVER LIES
--Markman & Bosco (shrinks) ALONE with the DEVIL
--Colin Wilson (criminology) THE MAMMOTH BOOK of TRUE CRIME
--Edna Buchannan (reporter) THE CORPSE HAD A FAMILIAR FACE
--William Bayer (for investigative technique) PATTERN CRIMES, SWITCH
--Carsten Stroud (a Cop's book with radio signal glossary) CLOSE PURSUIT
--Radio codes/precinct maps of NYC can be had from the Mystery Writers of America
-- also FBI reports and coroner articles from this same source--MWA
--any articles and “gross” of information you can get from the nice PR people at the FBI
Of course don't overlook the obvious. You have access to the Chicago Police Department if you live nearby, or the Rogue River Police Department, if you live out that way, and if you have no nearby medical examiner in Threee Forks Junction, then you do have a pathologist close at hand. He may act like a David Lynch character but approach him or her anyway. Live research can be fun. I once needed to know at what temperature a body burns cleanly. After asking myself who'd know, I telephoned a crematorium in Orlando, Florida where I lived at the time, and the "character" who does the burning provided me with far more than I'd asked for, and he became a "character" in my book, BURNING OBSESSION. I later used what I had learned for FIRE & FLESH writing as Evan Kingsbury, and in Evan’s sequel FLESH WAR now an Amazon.com serialized novel in eleven parts under Robert W. Walker.
In the past, I used pen names for most of my strictly horror titles as with Geoffrey Caine, while Stephen Robertson penned the Decoy police series and The Handyman, and I did one screwy horrific police tale called Dr. O under pen name of Glenn Hale. My one series which follows the M.E. of Chicago, Dean Grant, started with DEAD MAN'S FLOAT (Zebra/Pinnacle Books). This four-book series is now available as Floaters at www.FictionWise.com All my "wealth of information" can be found in the four Dean (Koontz homage) Grant (Charles Grant homage) books, and I like to think they're enjoyable reading as well (but alas all out of print save as online demand titles at Fiction Wise. I have more titles out of print than in). Much of my ideas were begun with the same nuggets of information mined directly from the above reading list which has only grown and grown like a puckering encroaching cancer, as I worked in this field.
Sure, I read Martin Cruz Smith, Thomas Thompson, and William the man Faulkner for style (and all three can get pretty gory at times), but I read William Bayer for the nitty-gritty details of police work. What I learned was then pepper and salted into the story as it developed for the first Instinct title over 20 years ago—pre-dating Patricia Cornwell and many others and contemporary to Harris: KILLER INSTINCT which began an 11 book run; books with character and complexities galore. Concurrently, I began the Edge Series with CUTTING EDGE, which went to 4 books. As for Thomas Harris, by all means read Red Dragon and Silence in that order, if you have not already done so. He's a master. If you mean to skip any Harris skip Hannibal as it is infuriating. I hadn't read Harris until a friend pointed out to me that "There's this guy who's doing what you're doing . . . you've got to read him." So I did, but this was well after I'd already done two series. I also did DECOY, a series of 4 books, the first 3 entitled DECOY, the last entitled THE HANDYMAN (all four available at FictionWise.com). Once again, cops and coroners, shrinks and bad guys who are MONSTERS.
That's basically what I do. My mean bad guys are thinly disguised monsters, creatures of the night, feeding on the suffering and anguish of children, prostitutes or other helpless beings, and often crossing over to the high-rise, high-rent district of say Chicago’s magnificent mile where they really get into trouble with the law. The ‘man’ is in full force on the Mile!
With a background in horror fiction, it was not a huge leap to take it to the human species of monster. Pick up a newspaper any day of the week and read reality-based horror. So, if you wish to pursue fiction based on fact, or what I call "reality-based" terror, READ EVERYTHING. At least this is the advice I followed when Dean R. Koontz gave it to me some years back when I wrote to ten best-selling authors for help. Of the ten, only Koontz responded with a letter and Dick Francis with a phone call. This was BEFORE E-mail kiddies. One piece of advice Koontz gave me along with a shopping list of titles was to calm down as “You don’t do your best work, kid, till you turn fifty anyway!” Sage advice, and true, as my BEST WORK has been my City Series begun with City for Ransom, and my soon to be released DEAD ON (anyone wishing for that sneak peek of 30 pages, contact me directly at inkwalk @ sbcglobal dot net)
My agent once said to me, "Rob, with the Danny Rollings serial killer case going on in Gainseville (Florida) right now, why don't you drive up there, get the story and write it up? True Crime is hot, hot, hot right now." My reply was simple and shot-gunned -- "No #%$%^! thanks. I don't want to ever sit across a table and go eye-to-eye with one of my own character’s counterpart in a locked room! No thanks." That takes a nerve I don't have, and it takes a reporter's mentality, not a fiction writer's imagination. It's a different kind of writing with a different rules, and often the result is that the non-fiction author’s hair turns white or falls out in patches. There is a real abyss; I’ll stick with my safe fictional abyss.
However, I read great gobs of nonfiction in order to create the kind of fiction I do, and I'm happy to have found something I'm good at and that sells. KILLER INSTINCT went back to six or seven go -rounds, a big first in my career. The sequel was FATAL INSTINCT in '93, and then came PRIMAL in ‘94, the third using Dr. Jessica Coran as heroine detective, M.E., FBI, set in Hawaii, as opposed to Chicago or New York. I ran a singular villain (Matisak) through these first novels and only killed him off in the 4th of series PURE INSTINCT. Now with #11—Absolute Instinct—I found a way to resurrect him in the manner that Jack the Ripper himself keeps getting incarnated. The Son of Matisak showed up!
As a fictionalist, I personally prefer to create my own sinister monsters from the composite pieces of real-life monsters I've come across in my research—or model a few after co-workers, ha! Research gives backbone or spine to the storyline so that the threads you want to pull from page one to page last have something to hang on. Since Absolute is about a spine-thief . . . he does not want anything from you except your spine, as he needs it in his “art” and he has a liking for spinal fluid and marrow, well then what’s the big deal? Sure it’s messy but hey . . . so is eating a lobster. Imagine how hungry the first guy on the planet who ever ate a lobster had to be? But in the end the story is everything and all, and if you are a storyteller, you do not allow the heavy-handedness of research hours to overtake the storyline. The threads of your research are stitched in—knit one, pearl two. Or as said earlier, used like pepper and salt within the dialogue even more so than within the narrative, and for the sake of the Gods of Writing never allow your narrator to talk for your character or your character to suddenly talk like your narrator unless you are doing first person folksy/informal as in Magnum PI, and for God’s sake get over E.A. Poe and what’s his name ah Lovecraft if you ever, ever want to go mainstream like Koontz, King, Straub, Clegg, F.Paul Wilson, David Morrell, perhaps Rob Walker whose style you really oughta check out. My first novel, written while at age 16 in high school—on their clock—was in pure imitation of the real master. I had read all of Hawthorne, Dumas, Poe, and for my money Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales beats Poe any day of any week as the precursor to such people as Rod Serling. I read widely of Dickens and Steinbeck, but the MAN to imitate for me at that age was Mark Twain, so I wrote the sequel to Huckleberry Finn while in high school as both a pissed off young man and an arrogant enough young man, who on discovering there was no sequel to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn that perhaps the Gods of Writing meant this task to fall into my hands. Besides, it just might never get done if I didn’t do it, so I penned Daniel Webster Jackson & The Wrongway Railway.
A damn good YA historical novel that was fun to write. Final proviso, have fun; if you hate writing and despise rewriting, go make film, a doc or mock-umentary on how writers write maybe. As Clifford Simac once asked of me, “Are ya havin’ fun with it? If you ain’t havin’ fun with it, then don’t f-in’do it.” Simac pre-dated most science fiction authors in having robots with tears, giving birth, and getting angry at us. Pick him up some time. Like most great fiction, of course, he’s out of print.
Take Care, and you have my permission to ignore any or all of what I say...and as I say at the opening of any class I teach one proviso: Everything I say can and will be used against me in a court of lesser beings whose writing sucks! Should I be challenged, as there is always always someone somewhere who can prove you wrong when breaking all the noble commandments old hands like myself live by—such as rely on ACTIVE VOICE at all times, show don’t tell, all of it—and should I be proved wrong as in “hey, man, Stephen King doesn’t do heavy research, so why should I worry about the book’s sense of and sound of authenticity? (Notice authenticity comes out of author?) So you challenge me on any one of these FACTS I live by and SELL by because your great book works just fine without a stitch or an iota of research behind it—go right ahead and prove me wrong. Sell it to a top paying NYC market and let me hear about it, OK? Meanwhile, too many horror titles that are RIDDLED with bad usage and bad grammar and just plain end to end PASSIVITY in paragraph after paragraph continue to be published by editors who apparently have extremely low expectations of the art of the horror novel as the Mathesons and Blochs are few and far between. So a lot of schlock crummy undeniably BAD horror does get put out by bottom of the heap editors who know less than you or I about writing as their bloody standards are about as high as a palmetto bug’s ass during a the Annual Palmetto Bug Olympics held in Daytona Beach every year at about—Ha! Yes, just about time for me to sign off before I turn into Harlan Ellison.
Robert W. Walker
PS. Anyone in search of a useful online course in writing, contact me directly