WHILE international best-seller Jeffery Deaver has little to worry about in terms of his sales dwindling any time soon, he is conscious of the fact that in this digital age books are competing against a number of media for readers’ attention.
"The book business is not what it used to be," he says. "I think it’s important to be aware of a confluence of media, a coming together of all different forms of entertainment. These days, us authors compete against such erudite creations for our time as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. We’ve got to make sure we do a really good job to keep people interested."
Deaver is a man of many talents, and his former career as a folk musician has proven handy in the creation of his latest thriller, XO (Hodder & Stoughton). His protagonist is Kayleigh Towne, a young singer-songwriter who has attracted the attention of a stalker named Edwin Sharp. He believes Your Shadow, the featured track on Kayleigh’s new album, was written especially for him. "I’ll be your shadow. Forever," he writes in one note.
His e-mails extolling his eternal love are relentless, while threats of legal action do not deter him. He seems to have access to every detail of the singer’s life and when Kayleigh returns to her hometown to give a concert, Edwin anticipates her every move, showing up at her home, at backstage rehearsals and even at her favourite bar.
When one of her road crew is killed in an onstage "accident", the murder method appears to be inspired by the first verse of Your Shadow. Kayleigh then enlists the help of her friend Kathryn Dance, an agent with the California Bureau of Investigation. Dance’s area of expertise is kinesics — the analysis of body language, but Deaver has stacked the deck against her by making the physically impassive Sharp almost impossible to read. He’s a skilled manipulator who willingly co-operates with the police and protests his innocence by pointing out that’s he’s merely a devoted fan.
In addition to the prose, Deaver also wrote Your Shadow, along with the 10 other songs that feature on Kayleigh’s CD (and whose lyrics are printed at the end of the book). These songs provide clues — as well as a number of red herrings — to help readers uncover the villain.
The natural progression was to turn the songs into an album. Deaver approached a friend in the music industry, the two formed a company. To breathe life into the songs they hired recording artist Treva Blomquist and other musicians.
Was the author tempted to pick up a guitar and strum along? "As Clint Eastwood, my favourite literary philosopher speaking as Dirty Harry, said: ‘A man should know his limitations.’ I’m a pretty good lyricist and I enjoy doing that, but I’m not a singer by any means — I respect my readers far too much to subject them to my voice. And I’m not a great musician either. Treva has a wonderful voice and the musicians are superb." (The songs can be downloaded from jefferydeaver.com/XOMusic/xomusic.html)
Your Shadow is the song Edwin bases his stalking on and Deaver says he took his inspiration from The Police’s Every Breath You Take.
"If you sing the song one way, it’s a love song, but the way that Sting sings it is scary — it is ominous. I liked these two interpretations of the same song — and Your Shadow is played by someone in the book to announce a death."
XO is the third instalment in the Kathryn Dance series, which Deaver created as a foil for his original and much-loved Lincoln Rhyme series, featuring the curmudgeonly quadriplegic criminalist and his sidekick Amelia Sachs.
Dance first appeared in Cold Moon, and Deaver committed to spin her off into her own series if she proved popular with fans. "Lincoln is a difficult, cranky character, so with Kathryn readers can relax. She also focuses on the psychological side of solving crimes — whereas Lincoln homes in on the forensic evidence. I wanted to create the antithesis of Lincoln — Kathryn is the one who sits across from the villains and gets into their minds. Her kinesics skills enable her to bond with individuals, be they the suspects or victims who may not be aware of what they know." He likens her prowess to a "Vulcan mind meld".
Deaver is known for the intense planning that goes into each book before one word is written. A hallmark of his Rhyme books is the evidence charts he includes throughout the narrative. It is possible, if you read them closely, to figure out the twists, he says.
He notes he’s fortunate that he can work anywhere.
"I finished the new Lincoln Rhyme book, called The Kill Room, a few days ago at the Cape Grace hotel and uploaded it to my editor from Cape Town. And last night in Joburg I finished the evidence charts."
Deaver is no stranger to South Africa, having spent time here while researching his last book, Carte Blanche — the new James Bond novel set in large part in Cape Town. The author even has Bond supplanting his famed martini with Cuvée Clive, the flagship Cap Classique from the Graham Beck wine estate.
"I do buy Graham Beck in the US — their Gamekeeper’s Reserve is a favourite."
Fans have a clutch of his books to look forward to next year, including The Kill Room; a collection of short stories, all of them unpublished in South Africa, called Troubled in Mind; an as yet untitled stand-alone novella; and a new Kathryn Dance coming in 2014. Deaver also contributed an essay on US crime writer John D MacDonald in Books to Die For, an anthology in which the world’s leading mystery writers come together to champion the greatest mystery novels written.
XO is typical of Deaver books in that it’s fast-paced with a series of surprise endings, and a host of devious characters with their own agendas. Deaver says he, too, is scheming.
"One of my favourite quotes is from writer Mickey Spillane who said: ‘People don’t read books to get to the middle.’ I am comfortable with hiding a bomb in a hotel somewhere — I know it’s going to go off and the reader knows it’s going to go off, but nobody in the room does. I’m very manipulative — I’m going to get people turning pages to get to the end of the book. I’ll do whatever I can and use all the techniques I know to get people to race through the novel as fast as they can."
Deaver’s work has also made it to the silver screen. Having seen The Bone Collector adapted into a successful film starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, Deaver has sold Edge — a standalone novel set in Washington, which was a finalist in the Best Hard Cover Novel category in the 2010 International Thriller Writers Awards — to producer/actor Ken Olin, who was in Brothers and Sisters. "Olin has written a script for the pilot, while Uma Thurman still has the option for the Kathryn Dance books."
When he’s not writing, Deaver spends about three months of each year on the road promoting his latest book. When at home in North Carolina or Washington, he enjoys cooking, skiing and collecting fine wine. No doubt there’s a stash of Cuvée Clive in the cellar.