'Skin Collector' Author focuses on keeping people excited about reading


By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

New York Times best-selling author Jeffery Deaver originally planned on using quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme — his most famous character — only once.

Yet the character proved to be so popular that Deaver, 64, has used him in 11 novels, including “The Skin Collector,” the latest Rhyme installment.

His first Rhyme novel, “The Bone Collector,” was adapted into the 1999 movie of the same name starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) as the quadriplegic detective.

“I’ve been surprised at the popularity of this character, who has millions of fans all over the world… My job is to give readers what they want,” Deaver said.  “Hence, we’ll keep seeing Lincoln Rhyme as long as people want him.”

Deaver, a graduate of the University of Missouri and the Fordham University School of Law, will appear at the Bloomfield Township Library on Monday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m.

Books will be available for purchase and signing.

When Deaver created Rhyme, he wanted to do an updated version of Sherlock Holmes who couldn’t move and had to completely rely on his intellect.

“I think the main appeal is that, curiously, he’s like all of us,” he explained. “He’s his mind and heart before his body, as are we all. People relate to that philosophy.”

In “The Skin Collector” — which is a sequel to “The Bone Collector” — Rhyme and Detective Amelia Sachs, his lover and eyes and ears in the field, race against the clock to stop the titular villain, who’s connected to the Bone Collector, a serial killer they stopped almost a decade ago.

The Skin Collector tattoos the flesh of his victims with cryptic clues, then kills them with a tattoo gun loaded with poison where they die a horrible, gruesome death.

“I’ve had in mind doing a sequel to ‘The Bone Collector’ for years since I left some plot points open in that book, intentionally, knowing I would return,” Deaver said. “The tat artist part was a moment of inspiration. A waitress friend of mine got a new tattoo and I thought, ‘Perfect! A great way to kill somebody!’”

He said he created the Skin Collector becausehe’s “intrigued by brilliant artists who are also extremely dangerous and mix art and murder.”

Deaver loves the villains he’s conceived because they have to be as clever — if not more so — than his heroes. Case in point: the recurring villain called the Watchmaker. Deaver compares the Watchmaker to
Professor Moriarty, the arch-nemesis of Holmes.

“I can say that I like the idea of the Watchmaker being Lincoln’s Moriarty because a hero needs to compete against a villain who is every bit his equal, if not his superior,” he said. “And I love the way the Watchmaker, even though Lincoln finally had him arrested, will continually be a threat.”

Rhyme also made cameos in two of Deaver’s Kathryn Dance novels and several short stories, the most recent being “Rhymes with Prey,” which was featured in this year’s anthology “Face-Off,” where mystery-thriller authors collaborated with one another and had their most famous characters join forces.

Rhyme teamed up with Detective Lucas Davenport, the protagonist of John Sanford’s “Prey” novels.

“It was great fun!” recalled Deaver. “We came up with an outline and divided up the eight sections, writing four each. Lincoln handled the forensics; Lucas the street cop work. It’s set in New York. Readers seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.”

For Deaver, collaborating with Sandford was a wonderful experience.

“He’s not only a brilliant writer, but he’s a gentleman too,” he said. “The balance, 50-50, came naturally to us. We were very conscious of respecting each other’s creation.”

Deaver wouldn’t mind collaborating with another author and his or her creation again.

Kathy Reichs, New York Times best-selling author of the “Bones” books, stated she could see Rhyme and her character Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, joining forces. She also pointed out that both she and Deaver live in North Carolina.

“That could work,” said Reichs. “That could work for me if (Rhyme) needs a forensic anthropology consult.”

In turn, Deaver responded: “Ah, that’s interesting news. Kathy’s a wonderful writer and a good person. I’d very much enjoy the opportunity.”

Deaver admitted it’s quite challenging to keep Rhyme fresh and exciting after 11 books.   

“Every morning I wake up afraid that my work that day will disappoint readers and I work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “I have to come up with plot ideas all the time. Fortunately, millions of people love Lincoln, so they’re just happy to see him back in action.”

Nonetheless, Deaver is always up for a challenge. Last year’s stand-alone novel, “The October List,” was written in reverse.

“I heard an interview with the wonderful playwright and composer Stephen Sondheim, who wrote a play in reverse ‘Merrily We Roll Along.’ It sounded fascinating; I wondered: ‘Can I do that with a thriller?’” explained Deaver. “It became a consuming challenge, and I’m very proud of the result.”

While “The October List” is much shorter than the rest of his novels, it was much more challenging since it was written in reverse.

“I wrestled with the outline for months before I started to write,” he said. “By the way, I wrote it in proper chronological order, then reversed it.”

Deaver meticulously outlines his novels.

“Because my books are very tightly plotted and have multiple subplots — and take place over a short period of time — I need to outline,” he said.

Deaver said he spends eight months outlining and researching a book.

“Only when I’m completely through with the outline do I write the book itself,” he said. “I should say too that an outline is important because sometimes I’ve gotten into the story and seen that the book I’m trying to
write won’t work. I throw out the outline and start something new. Much easier to do that than throw out 200 pages of prose.”

Currently, he’s working on another Rhyme novel.

His next novel, “Solitude Creek,” debuts in 2015.

It features the return of the aforementioned Kathryn Dance, a body language expert who works for the California Bureau of Investigation.

This is the fourth Dance novel.

“I can’t say where she came from, except she was a contrast to Rhyme. I also always liked the idea of one-on-one communications in the crime world. Forensic science is important but there are other aspects of solving crimes that I find fascinating,” said Deaver. “I shift because there are certain stories that won’t work with Rhyme. For instance, crimes in which forensics don’t play a major role.”

He was tight-lipped about the plot of “Solitude Creek.”

“I can say briefly that ‘Solitude Creek’ is about a killer who engineers stampedes. His goal is to turn humans into irrational animals who panic at… theaters and concerts by — in effect — yelling ‘Fire!’ in crowded auditoriums. He’s a wonderful and sick, villain!” said Deaver.

For Deaver, the most enjoyable part about writing is imagining the characters.

“I love writing. It’s great fun,” he said. “It’s a tough world in publishing now. Many other forms of entertainment compete for our time. I want to make sure that I have product out there consistently to keep people excited about reading.”