On Tuesday I got a message from a friend asking if I could account for my whereabouts after the book-signing event on Sunday. He attached a link to a local news story. A body had been pulled from the water in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, very near the site of a similar crime scene almost twenty years ago – a crime scene that inspired my debut thriller Calvin’s Head. The book I spent Sunday afternoon signing. The book that begins with the grisly murder of a man called Valentine, whose remains are discovered in a Vondelpark pond.
I follow a lot of crime fiction blogs, groups, and websites. So, of course, it came to my attention that Raymond Chandler’s birthday was this past week. Might have thought of it myself if I hadn’t been busy juggling a dozen literary balls at the same time. And in some way they all seem to relate to Chandler.
A couple years back I referenced his essay The Simple Art of Murder (1950) in a review of a terrific debut thriller (The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, available now in paperback.) I’d written my own first novel, and was looking forward to attending ThrillerFest that summer to see if I might generate some interest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My book wasn’t like the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. But my protagonist did have some of the qualities he discussed.
“A human head weighs about the same as a large oven-ready chicken,” crime fiction author Peter James told a roomful of rapt listeners at ThrillerFest 2014 in New York City. If anyone felt queasy, they didn’t show it. After all, the panel was called Sick, Sick, Sick: Is it Possible to Write Great Thrillers and Not Be a Secret Sadist? It’s always fascinating to spend a weekend with writers who think a great deal about new and grisly methods to murder someone or how to commit the perfect crime. With my debut suspense novel coming out in two months, and having started a second one, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than this yearly International Thriller Writers event.
The northern New Hampshire inn where I’m spending the summer is haunted. I’ve not seen any first-hand evidence. But others report a recurring manifestation of dead flies in certain rooms; mysterious whistling in the kitchen; sudden loud knocks or extreme drops in temperature. A child played with an unseen friend. The dog refused to climb the Tower stairs. Oh, yes. A Tower. Any of these occurrences on their own might be explained. Put them all together? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out the setting of my next book.
So one of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival panels that grabbed my attention was The Devil You Don’t Know: Otherworldly Forces in Fiction.
It’s been ten days since I arrived at my brother’s place in the wooded foothills of western Maine.
Two weeks since I left Amsterdam for my now annual summer retreat.
Four months since I posted a piece on this blog recapping last year.
Twenty-nine years since I fled New York City for Europe.
Twenty-nine years ago to the day, in fact.