Opening Moves by Steven James

By Guy Bergstrom

A serial killer on the loose is a nightmare. Who’s next? Why is the killer doing it — and can he be stopped?

OPENING MOVES is the latest Patrick Bowers mystery from Steven James, and it features a different kind of killer, one who can’t be tracked by his pattern. Because his pattern keeps changing and that trail wouldn’t lead you to the killer anyway.

This criminal is copying Wisconsin’s most twisted killers, including the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein and the Oswald family.

James is the author of more than 30 books, including the Patrick Bowers series and THE QUEEN, which won a 2012 ECPA Award and a 2012 Christy Award.

He’s an active member of ITW, Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild and the International Association of Crime Writers.

How is your latest book different than other mysteries & thrillers out there — and what you’ve written before?

Opening Moves is the sixth book in my series The Bowers Files, but it is also a prequel, so it serves as a good place for new readers to dive into the series. The five other books—THE PAWN, THE ROOK, THE KNIGHT, THE BISHOP, and THE QUEEN—all deal with FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers while he is serving as a geospatial investigator using twenty-first century technology to track serial offenders.

In OPENING MOVES, Patrick is still a homicide detective in Milwaukee. Readers will see the genesis of how he became who he is, and how he came to track the people that he does.

This book is unique because it relates to actual crimes from the annals of Wisconsin’s rather grisly history. One of the true crimes referred to in the book actually hit home to me because my own father was on the list of people a team of killers was targeting and might very well have murdered had they not been captured when they were. This made the book especially chilling for me to write.

What did you learn about the difference between sanity and insanity, and from researching serial killers like Dahmer?

Insanity is a legal term, not a medical one. Someone might be “mentally ill” and still found to be legally sane.

If it can be determined that you could understand the difference between right and wrong at the time of your crime, legally, you can’t be found to be insane.

This was actually why Dahmer lost his case.

Sometimes he would stuff the corpses of his victims into vats, sometimes he would sleep with the bodies or chop them up and keep the body parts in the fridge and the skulls beside a candle-lit altar to Satan in his closet. Sometimes he drilled holes in the heads of his victims while they were still alive and poured acid into their brains, hoping to turn the men into zombie love slaves.

During his trial he pled insanity. And lost.

Why? At least partially because he took an action to cover up his crimes, namely, he lied to the police when they brought Konerak Sinthasomphone back to his apartment. The jury believed that this showed Dahmer knew he’d acted in ways that needed to be concealed.

Strange as it may seem, if he would have led the police right up to the body on his bed he might have been found insane and never gone to prison at all.

Police and prosecutors say criminals are actually pretty dumb, and even then, catching them is hard. Do you think that crime fiction depicts brilliant criminals because that’s more entertaining, or because it’s our greatest fear, a merciless killer lurking in the shadows who’s smarter than you, and the cops, and who can’t be caught?

From my research, I’d agree that many petty crimes are committed by people who aren’t that sharp, or who act impulsively, on the spur-of-the moment. However, one characteristic of sociopaths (or psychopaths, depending on which term you prefer) is high intelligence. White collar crimes are often committed by really bright people manipulating the system to their advantage. That said, I think that you’re right on the money in regards to crime fiction—a dumb, fumbling criminal isn’t very much of an adversary for your protagonist.

The strength of your protagonist is measured in regard to the forces of antagonism he has to overcome. If he just has to face an everyday, run-of-the-mill cat burglar, he doesn’t have to be very heroic. But if he has to catch a ruthless, conscious-less criminal genius he needs to rise to the challenge. So, the emergence of these types of criminals is partially due to the constraints of fiction and the expectations of readers.

How has your hero evolved over all those books, and how have your villains evolved?

That’s a good question. I think that in each book Patrick Bowers becomes more fully human as he struggles with meaningful questions of human nature, good and evil, free will, meaning and justice.

I’ve explored the questions of what makes humans different from other animals; what matters more, truth or justice; what keeps us each from doing the unthinkable; and what does it really mean to forgive yourself.

Just as in all stories, the challenges and struggles of the protagonist have to escalate or we end up letting readers down. As a result, the villains have become more formidable as the series has progressed. The villains in the last couple books have really frightened me—especially those in OPENING MOVES. They really climbed into my head and I had nightmares writing the book—and that’s not something that typically happens to me when I’m working on a novel.

While not the most violent or grisly of the books, OPENING MOVES was by far, for me, the most frightening and thrilling one in the series.

*****

Steven James has penned 30+ books including the award-winning Patrick Bowers series. He has received wide critical acclaim for his work including two Publishers Weekly starred reviews and three Christy Awards. His thriller The Queen won a 2012 ECPA Award and a 2012 Christy Award. Steven is an active member of International Thriller Writers, the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Association of Crime Writers. He is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest and has taught writing and storytelling principles on three continents. He lives in Tennessee with his wife and three daughters.

To learn more about Steven, please visit his website.

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