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Jeffery Deaver, from The Thriller Man
An interview with Jeffery Deaver,
author of 'The Bone Collector,' 'Coffin Dancer,' 'Devil's Teardrop' and 'The Empty Chair'

October 1999

By John Orr
(a.k.a. Dr Gone)

For the many rabid fans of Jeffery Deaver's "The Bone Collector" and its sequel, "Coffin Dancer," the big question wasn't "Will it be a good movie?" (No, sadly, it wasn't.)

The big questions were: "Will there be another Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs novel, and when?"

This is an issue because in Deaver's latest novel, "The Devil's Teardrop" -- the one for which the author recently tramped the bookstore trail -- some other guy is the hero.

The big answers: Yes; in 2000.

"I have to say I've been rather surprised at how popular the Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs combination has been," said Deaver in a recent phone interview. "I did a signing here in Denver where there must have been 45, 50 people in the crowd. All of them said they liked 'Devil's Teardrop,' in which Lincoln Rhyme makes a little cameo appearance, but they said, 'Please bring back Lincoln Rhyme, we love him so much, and Amelia, too.'

"I listen to my audience."

So, into the ranks of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Nero Wolfe rolls Lincoln Rhyme, in his candy-apple-red Storm Arrow wheelchair.

We met him in "The Bone Collector" when he was at home in Manhattan, contemplating suicide. He'd been the top criminologist for the New York Police Department, but his fourth cervical vertabrae was broken in an accident at a crime scene, and he was left with movement only in his neck and head, and his left ring finger.

After a long struggle to learn to breathe on his own, and with physical woes ranging from bedsores to autonomic dysreflexia, and a lot of loneliness following his divorce, he has decided it is time for him to die. He is waiting for a death doctor to come help him.

But then a beautiful New York cop named Amelia Sachs finds a partially buried dead body by the railroad tracks, with one hand sticking up, a woman's ring encircling the bloody bone of a finger that has had its flesh skinned off.

Rhyme is asked to help solve the case, and even as he continues to plan his own death, becomes fascinated with a battle of wits between himself and the serial killer who leaves staged clues for him at crime scenes.

The book is a non-stop roller-coaster thrill. Once we are introduced to Rhyme, we simply don't want to put the book down.

Eventually Rhyme becomes engaged with his own life again, thanks to the serial killer; which is -- in case you slept through that class in Lit 1A -- irony.

Heavy duty, Grade A Artistic Irony, which is kind of amusing, because Deaver does not consider himself an artist.

"I do consider myself a craftsman," said Deaver, who is a perfectly charming, witty, affable guy over the phone, despite having dreamt up some incredibly horrid ways for people to die in his books. "You know, what is art? ... I guess I would say I draw a distinction between what I would call literary writing, whose point is to analyze or examine a human condition, independent of the plotting of that story, and my goal, which is simply to entertain."

Nevermind that Deaver packs a significant amount of analyzing human conditions in the Rhyme books -- and in "The Devil's Teardrop" -- we can argue that some other time.

But he certainly has entertained readers worldwide with "Bone Collector" (users of the United Kingdom version of voted it five crowns, which is the best), and Universal Studios gave him a cool million dollars for the movie rights.

"I read the book," said executive producer Dan Jinks, who brought it to Universal, "and flipped out over it. I read a lot of books that aren't movies. But this one screamed out to be a movie."

And that's what it became, with Washington as Rhyme and Angelina Jolie as Amelia. An army of fans of the book, and good marketing by Universal made it the No. 1 film for one weekend. Then it was shoved down the list by the likes of "Pokémon" and "The World Is Not Enough."

The film received uneven reviews, even here in Triviana, but Deaver's fans are still impatient for the next in the Rhyme series.

"Lincoln Rhyme came about in, I guess I'd say, a very calculated way," said Deaver of his franchise player. "I wanted to write a book with this very simple concept: My hero is in a locked room at the end of the book, utterly helpless, no one coming to save him, the killer -- the bad guy -- is there. What does my hero do to get out of that?

"And I thought about, well, possibly having him tied up, or handcuffed or duct-taped or something like that -- but that's a cliche. I wanted to go to the extreme. I like high-wire acts. I like to push everything as far as I can. So I decided to make him -- based on that very simple, rather calculated thriller premise, a quadriplegic -- completely, permanently immobile.

"Now, once I came up with that concept, it gave me the chance to increase the tension in other ways. In 'The Bone Collector,' we have the assisted suicide theme. So not only is Lincoln set upon by bad guys, and also trying to keep the deadline to save the victims, but he may very well be his own worst enemy.

"Now that we love Lincoln Rhyme, or that we care about him -- even though he's a curmudgeon, he has this humanity and personality to him -- nonetheless, he may kill himself.

"That gave me the chance to up the ante even more. Not content with these several levels of jeopardy, I created a relationship between these two people which gave me yet another opportunity to imperil them, because Amelia risks losing comeone that she has fallen in love with, and Rhyme, although he is loathe to admit it, has feelings for her as well.

"There are many ways to jeopardize our characters; violence and death are only two of those. The emotional connections that we as readers feel for our spouses and lovers and parents and children and so forth -- I like to exploit those feelings as well; it's just another way to help our readers turn the pages."

"The Bone Collector" is not Deaver's first sale to Hollywood -- that was "A Maiden's Grave," which HBO made into the movie "Dead Silence," starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin. But while Deaver has kind words for that production, he points out that "my interest in movies is primarily theatrical-release films, big Hollywood films, so I was very pleased that Universal has made 'The Bone Collector."'

But, Deaver doesn't plan to write movie scripts for anyone.

"My job is to write novels," he explained. "If I choose to sell a book to Hollywood ... I give it to the experts in Hollywood and they will go through the very elaborate and complicated process of turning the story into a movie.

"It's a process by committee, complicated and time-consuming, and for me an inefficient process, because it does rely on so many other people and a lot of meetings and discussion and things.

"I was completely happy to sell the book, pocket the money and get on with my next novel."

Of course, he hopes the film does well, because it will help sell his books.

"But that's their expertise (the filmmakers). I just cannot worry about it."

Buy the book "The Bone Collector."
Buy the book "Coffin Dancer."
Buy the book "Devil's Teardrop."

The coming Rhyme book:
A few words with
its author

October 1999
Orr: My wife wants you to write another Lincoln Rhyme book. And she wants you to hurry up.

Deaver: Because I like you so much already, I'm at my desk in the hotel with my computer in front of me, just finishing up the final edits on my next Lincoln Rhyme book.

Orr: Wow!

Deaver: And I just wrote it since we've been talking! Just because of what you said about your wife. Am I an accommodating author, or what?

Orr: She'll like that. Are you serious?

Deaver: Seriously, yes. It's called "The Empty Chair."

Orr: Uh, "The Empty Chair": Is that Lincoln's chair?

Deaver: Well, it may be. (Laughs.) I am a little reluctant to talk too much about it because it still is not quite finished, but let's just say that the title has a double meaning ... and that the book finds Lincoln Rhyme in North Carolina, of all places, looking into some experimental medical techniques to try to improve his condition, and he gets involved in a rather serious series of local crimes. And I think I'll let it go at that.

Jeffery Deaver, from

The writer's life

October 1999
Deaver has always paid his bills -- as a journalist, as a Manhattan lawyer and since 1990, as a novelist.

But a cool million for one of his 12 novels is a big paycheck.

''My first reaction was, 'I'll be able to write books for a few more years now.

''People have asked - that figure made it into the press -- people would ask me, 'What did you go out and buy, right afterward?' And I said, 'Well, actually, the day I learned about the deal, I got a hamburger and fries at McDonald's, driving my six-year-old car, drove back home and kept working on my next book.''

(The car -- a Mazda MX6 -- is now nine years old, and he's still driving it, although he is thinking of getting something bigger. Maybe a Buick. ''I have arthritis, in my hands, mostly, but also in my neck, and to get down into this car, and just bend my head sideways, is a real, literally, a pain.'')

Deaver keeps an apartment in Pacific Grove, where his writer sister Julie Deaver lives, and has a home in Virginia. He spends most of his time researching and writing his books.

''My hobby is wine and food,'' he says, ''and I have a lot of parties. I did a medieval party for about 65 people last year -- you know, come in costume, recipies from the 1300s.

''Because it is a very solitary business, about every two weeks I have people over, try out experimental recipes on them.''

Divorced about 10 years from photographer Helen Neafsey -- the demands of their professions giving them too little time to maintain a marriage -- the 49-year-old writer dates, but has found it's better if the women he sees haven't read his books yet.

''I always try to ask her out before she's read my books, because it kind of crimps your dating style if they think you write about serial killers and crazies and so on.''

Which he does.

''They get real nervous.

''But I tend to be laid back and easy going and funny, and then pick up the check for dinner, so they're usually fine with it."

Jeffery Deaver, from