“There was no reason for Elizabeth Knoebel to suspect that this was going to be the last day of her life.” That’s how L. T. Graham’s THE BLUE JOURNAL begins: a promise of a murder, but this taut and exciting psychological thriller delivers so much more.
Knoebel’s body is found naked in bed and it’s clear to Lieutenant Detective Anthony Walker that the victim knew whoever put a bullet in her brain. Walker, a former NYPD detective, now works for the Darien PD, a wealthy bedroom community in Connecticut, where a year’s worth of crime would barely fit into a twenty-four-hour timespan in the Big Apple. With ten years on the job in NYC, Walker has seen it all, and at first this case seems to be a straightforward homicide. But like the well-heeled people in this town, appearances are not what they seem. And after reviewing the victim’s salacious diary, he finds he has more murder suspects than a country club cocktail party.
Elizabeth Knoebel’s diary lays out in explicit detail all her sexual exploits—including the husbands of the women in her group therapy sessions. She would pick her prey, seduce them, humiliate them, then throw them away. Knoebel had made lots of enemies. The murderer could be any one of her jilted lovers. Or one of the vengeful wives. With little concrete evidence to go on, Detective Walker must unravel the tangled relationships, decipher fact from fiction, all the while navigating the shifting sands of small-town politics and gossip, the power plays and treachery.
L. T. Graham not only deftly weaves an intricate plot that keeps you guessing, but he also presents two antagonists, really—the victim and the killer. The victim, Elizabeth Knoebel, leaves a trail of psychological destruction in her wake, the effects of which continue to wreck havoc on her prey even in death. Her killer, in equal measure, manipulates and deceives, pitting suspect against suspect, and putting up enough barricades to frustrate the surefooted Walker. Mr. Graham delves deep into the psyche of the wealthy enclave, exposing lives and marriages tattered and twisted by deceit and lies, arrogance and insecurity. THE BLUE JOURNAL is a riveting and unrelenting look into the darker foibles of the human heart.
L. T. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
What was your inspiration for writing this story?
Several years ago, I witnessed several marriages dissolve into unhappiness, unpleasantness and, ultimately, divorce. I wondered what led to the disintegration of those relationships, and why people I knew so well, and appeared so happy, had grown apart. That was my original inspiration for creating and examining the various characters for this book, especially one particularly evil woman who became the central figure of the story.
The journal that plagues so many of your characters’ lives is found in the victim’s computer. So, could you explain the genesis of the title THE BLUE JOURNAL?
Elizabeth Knoebel calls her diary SEXUAL RITES. It was the working title for the novel, but seemed a bit too overt. I chose instead to use a play on words for her journal, since BLUE can mean many things, including sad on the one hand and indecent or risqué on the other. Also made for a terrific cover, I think.
Readers will get to be a fly on the wall during numerous therapy sessions in this psychological thriller. What kind of research did you conduct to be able to write on this subject with such a feeling of authenticity?
Without going too deeply into my background—since the story should speak for itself—I have had experience on both sides of the counseling experience. I also conferred with a number of professionals, who did not want to be acknowledged.
What research did you do for your protagonist, Lieutenant Detective Anthony Walker?
Walker is based on an on older gentleman who was a friend some years ago, now deceased. I would like to think he would appreciate my homage. I also owe thanks to members of the NYPD.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I have always written, from puppet shows in grade school, to short stories, plays and screenplays and, ultimately, to novels. For me, there has always been a primal satisfaction in telling a good story.
Additionally, what career or life experiences have influenced your writing?
The answer to that question would be a novel in itself. Like everyone, I was greatly influenced by my parents, for the good and bad of that, although mostly good. I have had extraordinary family members and wonderful friends, each of whom has touched me in different ways. And, of course, we live in times that challenge each of us in myriad ways, whether one is a writer or not.
You’ve explored some very poignant themes in THE BLUE JOURNAL. Could you tell us some of your thoughts behind the decisions to include them?
I would start with one word—marriage. Marriage is a combination of the most rewarding, difficult, and exasperating experiences in life. People live much longer now, which intensifies the trials wives and husbands have to face in growing and evolving, without pulling apart at the seams. Then there is the bombardment we endure from the modern media. Impossibly beautiful women with unrealistically fantastic bodies. Ridiculously handsome men with a careless attitude toward commitment. How do real-life people handle that input, how do we compete with those illusions? How do we age with grace? Where is the impetus to keep our commitments when we exist in a disposable society? All of these things both concern and fascinate me. As you know from reading THE BLUE JOURNAL, I did not sugar coat the unfairness women face or the doubts that plague men. As one advance reader said, this is not just a compelling murder mystery, this is a piercing look into what drives men, women, and their sexual conduct.
Could you describe your writing process? What’s a typical writing day for you? Do you have a special place to write, or habit or activity that helps stimulate your writer’s brain?
I write best in the morning, I almost always write at the desk in the room upstairs in my home, and I never wait for inspiration. I just keep plowing ahead, even if I later discard things. The key is to keep going, as with anything in life.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The late George V. Higgins was a terrific novelist, and he wrote a fine book on the art, titled ON WRITING, which I highly recommend to anyone who writes. Of all the excellent insights he provided, one has always stayed with me, and it should resonate with anyone who has been approached at a cocktail party with the line, “I understand you’re a novelist. Well I have this great story . . .” Higgins said, “Writers write.” It is the best single line of advice I have ever heard. A lot of people have interesting stories, many of which I am sure would make interesting books. But, in the end, if you want to be a writer, then write. If you wanted to be a professional cook, I would tell you to cook. If you want to play professional tennis, then stop talking about it, get the heck out on the court, and hit some balls. As an author, the best thing you can do is keep putting those tales on paper, don’t worry about how they sound now, you can edit later. As Robert McKee said, all you want to create is, “A good story, well told.”
L. T. Graham is the pen name of a New England-based suspense writer who is the author of several novels. Graham is currently at work on the next Detective Anthony Walker novel.