By George Ebey
THE WASHINGTON POST put it best when they said, “You have to admire the purity of Jerkins’ writing: He’s determined to peer into the darkness and tell us exactly what he sees.”
With the arrival of his latest thriller, THE NINTH STEP, author Grant Jerkins brings us yet another of his admirable examinations into the darker side of the human condition.
Helen Patrice is a recovering alcoholic struggling through a twelve–step program. It’s time to make amends for a crime she’s gotten away with—a hit and run accident that killed the wife of school teacher, Edgar Woolrich. When she finally gathers the courage to meet him, she can’t bring herself to reveal the truth. The ninth step begins with a lie—the first of many as their relationship grows. Then one day, Helen receives an anonymous note: Does he know you killed his wife?
I recently caught up with Grant who kindly shared his insights into the nature of story, theme, and what first brought him to the world of crime fiction.
Is THE NINTH STEP a stand-alone story or does it tie into your previous books, A VERY SIMPLE CRIME and AT THE END OF THE ROAD?
So far, all of my books have been stand-alone stories. THE NINTH STEP probably ties in with the other two books thematically, in that I’m once again looking into the darker corners of people’s lives, seeing what lurks there. This time around, there’s a bit more humor, albeit dark humor.
What first attracted you to writing and what led you to choose crime as a subject for your fiction?
Willie Nelson once sang that his heroes have always been cowboys. Well, my heroes have always been writers, and that is what brought me to writing. I wanted to emulate my heroes. People like James M. Cain, Nathanael West, Horace McCoy, and Jim Thompson. I came to most of those writers later in life. Growing up, I read almost exclusively horror and fantasy—Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Peter Straub, Ray Bradbury, Poe, Richard Matheson. In a way, it’s surprising I’m not a“horror” writer. Maybe I’m working my way up to it.
Where does your story take place and what led you to pick this location?
My last book, AT THE END OF THE ROAD, was steeped in its sense of place—mid 70’s rural Georgia. The setting was as much a character in that book as any of the people. With THE NINTH STEP, where it took place seemed beside the point to me, the least critical aspect. I set it in New England. Not even a specific state, just New England. I was maybe thinking about the Puritans. You could quite literally pick up the story and characters of THE NINTH STEP and drop them in Alaska, or Texas, or Puerto Rico —and nothing would change.
It’s about what’s in people’s hearts and what they are willing to do to one another, which turnsout to be damn near anything.
Do you have anything new that you are working on now?
I have a new manuscript called ABNORMAL MAN. It’s about a teenage pyromaniac who gets involved with a one-legged, hyper-violent parolee and the child pornographer who raised him. The three of them kidnap a little girl. It’s definitely different. Probably the best thing I’ve ever written. My publisher doesn’t want to publish it because the material is too dark. Honestly, I can’t say as I blame them. My editor there is an insightful woman with years of publishing experience, so it would be foolish of me not to listen to her. Yet, at the same time, I do love the book and believe that there is an audience for it. All of which is to say that I’m at a crossroads. I don’t know what comes next.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW calls THE NINTH STEP “[A] well-fashioned but extremely nasty study in abnormal psychology, which dares us to solve a mystery in which none of the normal character cues can be taken at face value.”
I’ll take that dare. Something tells me I won’t be disappointed.
Grant Jerkins is the author of the novel, A VERY SIMPLE CRIME. Barbet Schroeder (BARFLY, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE) is attached to direct the film version. Adapted for the screen by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (AT CLOSE RANGE, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE) and O’Neill Fellowship playwright Terry Curtis Fox (COPS, THE PORNOGRAPHER’S DAUGHTER). Currently in pre-production.
To learn more about Grant, please visit his website.