Tracking a Literary Killer
By R.G. Belsky
Layton Green’s new book, WRITTEN IN BLOOD, has an unusual premise for a thriller–a serial killer who leaves behind literary clues from Dostoevsky and Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie with the victims. But then Green loves to write different kinds of thrillers than most authors.
“I was brainstorming ideas for a police procedural, and wanted an idea that would set the book apart,” he said when asked how he came up with the literary concept for WRITTEN IN BLOOD. “It’s a tough and crowded market. What do I love, I asked myself? What do I know? I love and know books, and I decided to weave a literary angle into the story. The bookseller as sleuth idea is an old one, so instead, I decided to give the murderer the literary chops.”
The killings begin when a local bookstore owner in a small North Carolina town is found murdered in exactly the same way as the pawnbroker in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Two more victims are later found at crime scenes like those in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs.
The cop who has to stop the killings and figure out why they’re happening is Detective Joe “Preach” Everson – a prison chaplain turned police officer with a troubled past. Everson teams up (both professionally and personally) with a young woman who works at the bookstore and helps him with literary clues.
So how much research did Green have to do about the famous authors and their works for WRITTEN IN BLOOD?
“With one exception, I had read all of the books I used in the novel,” he says. “I reread them all when I started writing, and did quite a bit of research into the lives of the authors, as well as literary detectives in general. I have to say, it was a fun book to write.”
Writing different kinds of thrillers is nothing new for Green, who also does the popular Dominic Grey series – about an investigator of supernatural, religious and cult mysteries around the world.
“When I started that series,” he says, “I just wove in a bunch of elements that I love: mystery, traveling and studying other cultures, martial arts, history, religion, and the supernatural and quasi-paranormal (think X-Files). It was probably not the smartest marketing decision, but I was just writing what I love, and I’m happy that series has found an audience.”
His new character for WRITTEN IN BLOOD, Detective Joe “Preach” Everson, is haunted by a series of traumatic incidents from his past that caused him to have a mental breakdown which derailed his once-promising career in law enforcement.
“Along with the central motif of a literary serial killer, the second big decision I made was to have a detective who is tough but highly empathetic. Someone who struggles with violence, and with the existential questions. I chose his past trauma as the vehicle to work through those ideas.”
Preach also gets involved in an intriguing romance with Ariana (Ari) Hale, a law student who works at the bookstore where the first murder took place. “It’s hard to work a romance into a mystery, because you don’t want the relationship to overshadow the crime and suspense elements. I just gave them both a connection to the crime, threw them together in a few opening scenes, and went from there. They seem like polar opposites but they’re really very similar, which they discover as the novel progresses.”
Green’s own background is pretty unique too. In addition to being a practicing attorney for a number of years, his official bio lists other jobs he has worked at as “an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door-to-door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there.” He has also traveled to more than 60 countries and lived in a number of them.
“I wrote most of my first novel while working at a law firm,” he recalls. “In the morning, on the commute, during lunch breaks or at night. It was taking forever, so I took a shortcut by quitting my job and moving to an island off the coast of Venezuela. That was not unpleasant. Though not having a trust fund, I had to return stateside after a few months and get a job. I still hadn’t finished the novel! The first draft took six years to finish.”
Despite all these varied experiences, Green – who now lives in Durham, North Carolina – said he still devotes a lot of time for research on his thrillers.
“I’m pretty research heavy. For me, learning new things is part of the joy of being an author. Most of my research comes from books on certain topics, as well as in-person interviews. Also, I like to visit every single location I use in a novel, no matter how small the scene. I forget which famous novelist it was who wrote successfully about foreign lands without ever having traveled, but I am not that novelist (nor am I remotely famous).
“It really improves my work to visit the setting, either in memory or in person. I travel extensively for the Dominic Grey novels, and I suspect my family is appreciative that WRITTEN IN BLOOD takes place entirely in our home state!”
As for his own favorite authors, he says: “Ah, there’re so many. I’ll stick to mystery and thriller, and short list a few: Dennis Lehane, Michael Gruber, Dan Simmons, James Lee Burke, Josef Škvorecký, Barry Eisler, Martin Cruz Smith, Charlie Huston, Don Winslow, and John Hart.”
What’s next? Green revealed he’s working on a new Preach thriller and “there’s always a new Dominic Grey adventure in the works.”