Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Selena Robins

POISON FLOWER, a contemporary thriller, is Thomas Perry’s seventh novel in the Jane Whitefield series. Thomas now shares his insights into the suspense/thriller genre and expands on his thoughts, regarding his main protagonist, Jane Whitefield.

The author recently sat down to discuss his latest book:

What draws you to the suspense genre?

I think we all end up writing something like the books we most enjoy reading. Part of the attraction for me is that I like stories that test and explore the nobler aspects of human nature. The genre allows us to plausibly depict people engaged in the most extreme tests of their courage, wisdom, cleverness, and persistence. I often write about people who are very imperfect, but who–for at least in this one moment of their live–show us something about bravery or self-sacrifice. In writing about them we get to celebrate a little. At the same time, the genre requires that we invent convincing dangers, enemies, and obstacles for these people, so we get to explore the other side of human nature too.

When you delve inside a criminal’s mind when writing, how do you research this aspect of these characters to differentiate their personality and behavior as opposed to people that are not criminals?

We do delve into criminals’ minds while writing. I do research by learning what I can about crimes that have really been committed, and sometimes develop variations on those crimes or invent new ones I haven’t heard of yet. Learning to understand the thought processes of the people who commit crimes is a necessary part of this. A lot of it, of course, is trying to identify with an evil person and imagine what he would do in a particular situation. But there’s more to it. The great Grace Paley, one of the best American short story writers, also wrote a memoir entitled JUST AS I THOUGHT. In it she says that if you think you know all about a character and understand him well enough to write about him easily, don’t do it. Write instead about the sort of person you watch and say, “What’s the matter with you? Why do you act that way?” Your work will be alive because you and the reader are studying this character and learning the answers together. The reader is sharing in your discovery as it happens.

Tell us about your serial character Jane Whitefield and what you admire most about this character. What would you like to see her change about herself?

Jane Whitefield is one of my favorite characters, which is why I’ve caught up with her again and studied her in the current book POISON FLOWER. Jane’s personal knowledge, history, and experience–what I think of as the furniture of her mind–are very different from the majority’s. That makes her consciousness a good way of commenting on aspects of our society. Jane is a native American. Her Seneca father and adoptive Seneca mother raised her as a traditionalist. She’s a modern woman who met her surgeon husband Carey while they were both undergraduates at Cornell, so she’s perfectly capable of seeing things the way we do. At the same time, she retains a great many values of her family’s culture. One small example is that she has an uneasy attitude about money. Among Senecas, a person’s status was dependent upon how much he could obtain and share; not how much he kept for himself. The most important men in a village always appeared to be the poorest. Like all Native American nations, Senecas have no reason to trust the government or its laws. Jane’s illegal, but good, profession is being a “guide” who takes people who are about to be murdered to new places where they’re unknown, and teaches them to live as new people. This profession gives me a chance to examine what identity is, how people become who they are, and what identities they invent when they’re given the chance to start fresh. As for what Jane would like to change about herself, that’s one of the big issues of POISON FLOWER.

What kind of reader would love to read POISON FLOWER?

As I said earlier, I write the books I would like to read. A reader like me, who likes to think about the nature of identity, the shifting and difficult boundaries of good and evil, would like it, as would a reader who is fascinated by history but doesn’t want to read a long lecture about it.

From observation I’ve learned that the Jane Whitefield books appeal disproportionately to women. Jane is often in a position in which she needs to confront, outsmart, and defeat powerful adversaries. Jane, because she’s a woman, must accomplish these things in unexpected and inventive ways. She knows that if she goes toe-to-toe against a man who weighs twice as much as she does, she’ll just be the latest victim. She has to be alert, cunning, and clever to stay alive from day to day, and when she can’t avoid conflict, she has to take full advantage of her opponents’ overconfidence and tendency to underestimate her. I think women recognize both the problem and the solution.

Tell us about your next project and will Jane Whitefield appear in this novel?

My next project is a book that’s been written, accepted, and edited, called THE BOYFRIEND. I don’t know the publication date yet, but the publisher is Grove/Atlantic. It’s not a Jane Whitefield book, like POISON FLOWER.

I have decided that I will continue to write about Jane from time to time in the future, but I haven’t decided yet what she’ll do next, or when she’ll start.

POISON FLOWER by Thomas Perry:

In POISON FLOWER, Jane Whitefield must free an innocent man from the criminal court building in downtown Los Angeles. In doing so she is kidnapped, shot, tortured, and ultimately, auctioned off to a group of bidders who will do anything to find out where she has hidden their escaped intended victims.


“Perry’s heroine, Jane Whitefield, continues to be one of the most original and intriguing characters in contemporary crime fiction. . . Makes you cringe and makes you think.”


“Anyone who has read Perry knows the anticipatory pleasure that comes just from holding a new book with his name on the cover. Fans of Jane, last seen in RUNNER (2009), will enjoy this elegantly written tale of pursuit and revenge.”


Thomas Perry is the author of twenty novels, including the Edgar-winning THE BUTCHER’S BOY; METZGER’S DOG, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year which was chosen last year by NPR audiences as one of the 100 Best Thrillers Ever; the New York Times Bestseller NIGHTLIFE, and STRIP, a New York Times Notable Crime Book of 2010.

To learn more about Thomas, please visit his website.

Selena Robins
Latest posts by Selena Robins (see all)