Years ago, when I was working on the book that would become Turnabout, the manuscript drew interest from several publishers. One of them ultimately turned the book down because they didn’t like the makeup of the protagonist. This was at a time where all heroes had to be versions of alcoholic Vietnam vets who accidentally killed a child while under the influence of some substance and working as a police officer. Whew. Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke did their own versions of that and I wasn’t going to do it any better.
Instead, what I wanted to do was take an ordinary guy, mess him up a bit, then at the end let him get back to his somewhat ordinary life. This is a perfectly valid sort of character, I think. As long as you can get the reader to care about him, to be invested, you can let the plot blender puree him into a slurry that can still pour him out whole in the end. It was the trip in the blender that I wanted to write about. That was what was interesting.
For Shallow Secrets, I took a character who thought he had a good life going but then had it taken away from him through no fault of his own. The problem was, no one around him fully believed him. There wasn’t definitive evidence one way or the other and while he could try to go back to his life, he knew he’d be in shadow, a cloud perpetually hanging over him. He was caught in the slurry.
Years later it worked out that another case came along, this one with evidence that seemed to tie him to an entirely new series of crimes. Reluctantly he decides to go along to see how this can be, never dreaming that it could ultimately lead to the redemption of his past. Too much time has gone by, though, and he learns that he can never truly go back, and that the life he’d been leading in a sort of self-imposed state of disgrace wasn’t so bad after all. At the end there’s the possibility, just a chance, for happiness of a kind that he never expected could come his way. Hell, he might even get the girl.
As a writer I never want to write the same book twice. The first two books are very different in tone and style, though both are written in the third person. I wanted to use this perspective to create suspense not only with the plot of the books but with the structure. In Turnabout, the reader figures out who the bad guys are before the good guy does. Afterwards, when they come into contact, a certain amount of tension is added to the scene. When the hero finally figures it out for himself, but the villain doesn’t yet know he’s exposed, the reader sees another facet of the same sort of suspense, quite apart from the elements of the plot, and it helps to draw the reader further in to the story.
With TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS I knew I wanted to go dark. When prolific author Ed Gorman was kind enough to blurb the book with, “This one has the power to hurt you,” I knew that Ed, at least, got it. He saw exactly what I was after.
I tried to get her to stay, to at least wait until I got home to decide anything, before she did what she said she would. I told her she couldn’t go, she’d at least have to talk to me. In a quiet desperation I told her that she couldn’t do this over the phone, for god’s sake.
But of course she could.
I wanted a character who made bad choices not because he wanted to but because he had to. His own moral compass is so strong that even when one of the cops working under him makes a mistake, he stands up for him at great cost, knowing that if the letter of the law is followed, a multiple murderer and drug dealer will be back on the streets.
Now he’s in trouble, kicked out of one department and into another, awaiting a disciplinary hearing that will most likely end in his disgrace. But there’s another problem: his personal life is a mess.
The FBI tells us that stalking is the only known predictor we have of murder. Ask yourself some “what if” questions: what if you’re aware of this fact? What if your wife is being stalked, gifts left on her desk at work, cards and notes stuck under the wipers on her car? What if you see a constantly escalating threat to the woman you care about the most?
If you go to the police, a restraining order can often make things worse. And you make yourself known to the cops. None of this makes your wife safe, it just makes you a future suspect.
More “what ifs”: what if you know how to make someone disappear? What if you can do it so that no investigation ever takes place?
Is this the right thing to do to keep your wife safe, or do you have to wait until it’s too late?
In the meantime, the character, Jeff Prentiss, and his new partner are working on a case, a string of murders that starts with the body of a well-known burglar washing up on the beach, and continues with the shooting death of a politician on his own doorstep. Prentiss is a pariah and a disgrace to everyone but his new partner, who wants to help, but Prentiss knows he can never tell him the truth. Because, as it turns out, the TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS.
Rick Ollerman is the author of two previous books, TURNAROUND and SHALLOW SECRETS, as well as the editor and contributor to the non-fiction reference book PAPERBACK CONFIDENTIAL. He has written essays that have served as introductions for over a dozen books, had several short stories published, and is currently working both on a new novel and on the non-fiction story of a woman who had been on the run for over a decade.
To learn more about Rick, please visit his website.
Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.