American crime writer Jeffery Deaver is perhaps best known for his Lincoln Rhyme series. Rhyme, a quadriplegic detective with a genius for forensics, has featured in nine of Deaver’s 29 thrillers in a career spanning nearly 25 years. His UK profile was boosted last year after he took on Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise, following Sebastian Faulks.
But for now, Deaver’s returned to his series characters. June sees the publication of XO, his third thriller to feature Kathryn Dance, a relatively new character who is an agent with the California Bureau of Investigation, where she is an expert in kinesics—the study of non-verbal communication.
Kathryn’s expertise comes in handy when her friend Kayleigh Towne, a young country and western singer, finds she is attracting the unwanted attentions of a stalker. It seems uber-fan Edwin Sharp has read rather too much into the signature, ‘XO’, on an automatically generated reply email from Kayleigh’s fan club.
Edwin is convinced Kayleigh has feelings for him, and that her most famous song, “Your Shadow”, was written with him in mind. An anonymous caller telephones Kayleigh, and plays the first verse of “Your Shadow” down the line. Soon afterwards a beloved member of her tight-knit road crew is murdered. Would a stalker be prepared to kill to get closer to the object of his affections? Or might the reason for the killing lie somewhere in Kayleigh’s past?
As long-time Deaver fans will know already, the answers to these questions will only be revealed after a series of plot twists and turns, feints and even a couple of false endings. “I live to fool people, it’s my goal in life,” says Deaver, over the phone from his home in North Carolina. He refers to these twists as “misdirections”—as an illusionist would. “I want to make sure that a reader could figure out every twist in the book from what went before. I try really hard to give those clues and suggestions double or triple meanings and steer [the reader] in a different direction. But the opportunity, if one chose to figure out what was going to happen, should be there.”
Such convoluted plots require some very precise planning, especially when an author is delivering at least a book a year (and sometimes two). Over his 29 novels, Deaver has perfected his method: “I would not think of sitting down and staring at a blank screen and letting a book come forth,” he says. “I spend about eight months outlining and doing the research at the same time. There are certainly moments of inspiration in that outline, but my books are about structure, as well as prose and characterisation.”
The way he researches his books has changed slightly. When he started writing—“in my early, youthf ul and energetic days”—he would spend time “out in the field” with the police or a psychiatrist. While fascinating, he found the things he learned “were not necessarily helpful for telling the story about a police officer, or a paranoid schizophrenic—so I learned pretty early that the story comes first.
“I certainly do talk to people. I have friends in law enforcement and national security, so I can pick up the phone and call if I need to, but most of it is done on the internet.” Yet for XO’s country and western infusions he was able to draw, a little, on his own experience. For Jeffery Deaver has a little-known past as a folk singer.
Back in the early 1970s—after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri—Deaver headed west to San Francisco, guitar in hand. He was a singer-songwriter—“my idols were Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon”—who survived for a few years playing gigs and teaching music. Although folk stardom did not materialise, Deaver enjoyed writing song lyrics. He has written Kayleigh’s song “Your Shadow”, which plays a key role in XO. It will be available as a free download from his website upon the book’s publication. Also in progress is a whole album of Kayleigh Towne songs, currently in production at a Nashville studio.
Kathryn Dance made her first appearance in the 2006 Lincoln Rhyme thriller The Cold Moon. How did she come to warrant her own series? Through his own version of market research, says Deaver: “I’m rather business-orientated when it comes to writing. It’s certainly a creative product, but it is a product and I feel [the responsibility of giving] my readers a fun time. I take a very hard-headed approach to figuring out what my readers are going to want.”
Lincoln Rhyme’s expertise lies in forensic science, “which is only really appropriate in a book where solving the crime hinges on the evidence”. But a big part of detection lies outside of forensics. So Deaver created a character and effectively auditioned her with fans, giving her what he calls “a job interview” in The Cold Moon: “Then I read my fan letters, and I looked at the reviews—and people loved her. So I spun her off, like they do in television.”
Now it’s Rhyme’s turn to make a guest appearance in XO. “My Lincoln Rhyme fans were understandably disappointed that I did Carte Blanche, which pushed back my own characters a year. The response to Carte Blanche has been wonderful, I’m so pleased by that . . . but people wanted Lincoln Rhyme. I thought: ‘Well, if they’re going to have to wait until 2013 to see Lincoln again, they are not going to be happy about that.’ So I simply put him in the Katherine Dance novel.”
XO is out on 21 June, published by Hodder.