THE BIG READ: Singing in the darkness
Jeffery Deaver delights in disturbing his readers. When I tell him that several of his books have creeped me out, his reply is a sincere "thank you".
"My job is to give everyone sleepless nights," he says.
The best-selling author was in South Africa to promote XO, the latest in the Kathryn Dance series, though it features a guest appearance by the more well-known Lincoln Rhyme, the paraplegic detective. What sets Deaver, 62, apart from his contemporaries in the thriller genre is his meticulous plots, which provide twists, turns and chills to the last page.
He spends about eight months outlining and researching the plot of each book and about two months writing.
"I try to have at least three surprise endings in each book," he says.
It's not just the endings in XO that are unusual. When she's not working for the San Diego police as an expert in interpreting body language, Dance records music by folk musicians and traditional groups and posts them on her website. In XO, she is recording the music of Mexican farmworkers; songs that register their (and Deaver's) concerns about US immigration policy.
Deaver's interest in music gains full expression in the novel.
XO concerns a country singer, Kayleigh Towne, being stalked by a delusional fan, who believes she is in love with him. In an unusual mix of song and suspense, Deaver has written the lyrics to all the songs Kayleigh sings.
"I got the idea from Every Breath You Take [by The Police], which is quite sinister, really. I was going to ask for the rights to use those lyrics in my book, when I thought, 'I'm a songwriter, I should do it myself'."
The lyrics to that song, My Shadow, and others -which contain clues to the plot - are included at the end of the book.
But Deaver went a step beyond, collaborating with Clay Stafford and Ken Landers - who wrote the music - and singer Treva Blomquist to record those songs. They are available from Deaver's website (www.jefferydeaver.com).
Though most of Deaver's stories are set within a limited time-frame, characters and motives are finely drawn. His bad guys, particularly, tend to linger with the reader long after the last sentence .
There is no point in having a cardboard cut-out villain, he says.
"I use evil to serve my purpose. 'Good' and 'evil' are often artificial constructs and I try to come up with a villain we can understand."
To track down these malefactors, Deaver's characters have to do some real investigative work rather than just running around with guns. Rhyme is a spiritual descendent of the detectives made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
She must use all her wits to unravel the complex clues left behind by an intelligent, if utterly twisted, villain.
Deaver was also chosen to write one of the reboots of the James Bond franchise. Carte Blanche was a great success, moving 007 to the modern day.
Deaver was honoured to follow in Ian Fleming's footsteps but he won't be renewing his licence to kill. Instead, his next work will be a new Rhyme mystery, The Kill Room . Once, when asked, what it is about, he replied that it's "a children's book".
He was kidding, yes, but there's some deeper truth.
"When you consider how violent the books being marketed for children are - like The Hunger Games - there's much less of it in my books."
Less fight, perhaps, but far more fright.
- 'XO' is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available from Exclusive Books for R200