By George Ebey
Author Lee Thompson brings us a tale of crime and suspense in his latest novel, A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS.
The story unfolds when a Texas senator and his wife go missing … On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity, and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.
We recently caught up with Thompson to find out more about A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS and to get his insight into what elements make up the best crime and suspense fiction.
Let’s talk about the genesis of your story. Where did your inspiration for A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS come from?
A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS started with an image of a rainy day and someone dumping a body on a shamed ex-governor’s lawn while he sits drinking beer on his porch.
From the beginning, I wanted to mess with perception by having my narrator, Sammy—who is biased and conditioned by the people he grew up around and his father’s dark history—share a story built from Sammy’s sister Delilah’s experience, along with a detective named Jim Thompson, and through pilfering the journal of a killer the police had dubbed the Wolverine. It’s all after-the-fact, although the reader doesn’t know how far into the future.
And I wanted to tackle perception by giving two different takes on how Shaun Garrett’s body is dumped on Sammy’s dad’s lawn—one viewpoint from his father, who Sammy thinks a liar, and one POV from the killer’s journal. It’s up to the reader to decide which story is true, if either. And I knew early that I wanted to create a killer who some readers would empathize with, and maybe, possibly, even love in a way.
What elements do you believe are essential for a good suspense story?
Pacing: I think the primary goal of a good suspense story is right in the definition of the word. It’s a novel that creates anxious uncertainty about what may happen. We only experience those moments a few times in our lives, but in a novel you have to cut the meandering parts to keep the emotional and physical suspense as high as possible.
Psychological intensity: Most of my favorite writers are of the school that all external action stems from emotional conflict, the pasts that haunt their characters, and the moral choices they have to make and deal with to acquire their desires and needs.
Flaws in perception: Memory is tricky. I’ve never taken what anyone has said, or what any author has written about their characters, as gospel. It’s human nature to want to make ourselves look better than we are and to make others look a little worse. So, all stories, no matter how honest, are colored by the author and narrator, and none of them are the complete truth.
The threat of impending death: Physical, professional, emotional, spiritual. The greater the characters chances of one, or more, of those kinds of death creates many, many avenues for suspense if the reader gives a damn about the character.
Limited resources: When the protagonist is outclassed and outgunned and moving through a dark, serpentine sewer without a map or flashlight to guide them, or a suitable weapon with which to battle the opponents guaranteed to rise from the murk and attack without scruples or remorse, you make that character rely more on their ingenuity and stubbornness and both innate and developed skills. I think we have to limit their resources, and even tuck some they do have into the fat of the story, so they’re not there when the hero thinks he’ll be able to count on them. Stories are about an individual finding out who he is, what he’s made of, and his place in the world, and I think most of us have to do that alone, individually, with little outside influence.
What do you enjoy most about writing stories in the mystery genre?
I think the payoff in the last quarter of any great mystery is elemental in its power. But the journey as a whole, following characters like Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell down into the deep, deep dark in THE GLASS RAINBOW, is cumulative from beginning to end. If I had to specify one thing in general, it’d be developing flesh-and-blood characters. They shape the story more than they’re shaped by it.
What’s on the horizon for you next?
I’m riding the wave of seeing A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestseller List, since that’s pretty sweet and I hope it continues to do so well, or even better. My publisher, DarkFuse, is releasing my second crime novel IT’S ONLY DEATH in January 2015, which I’m very excited about. It’s about an eighteen-year-old kid who kills his policeman father in a bank job gone wrong, then returns home ten years later to see his mother on her death bed, without realizing that his dad’s old partner has been longing to settle a score with him, and his little sister is connected with a deadly biker gang he’s determined to pull her away from. I also have a half-dozen novels ready to sell. And I’m always excited about whatever I’m working on at the time. Right now it’s a Supernatural Thriller I plan to sell under the pseudonym Julian Vaughn.
Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS (August 2014), IT’S ONLY DEATH (January 2015), and WITH FURY IN HAND (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.
Visit Lee’s website to discover more.