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The Crime Writer
Gregg Hurwitz
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INTRODUCTION

Drew Danner has won minor acclaim in his Los Angeles habitat for his popular crime novels, but nothing could have prepared him for the major and unwelcome upgrade his celebrity rating gets when he is arrested and put on trial for the vicious murder of his beautiful ex-fiancée. Found slumped over Genevieve’s lifeless body clutching a bloody boning knife, Drew had suffered a grand mal seizure brought on by an untreated brain tumor—the emergency removal of which also excised any memory he might have had of the crime. After a highly publicized trial a jury sets him free on a verdict of compromised sanity. Unsatisfied with the evidence presented, Drew begins his own investigation into what happened that night. But when another woman is killed in the same manner he’s faced with two terrifying prospects: either he’s being framed or he’s harboring a killer in his unconscious.

Drew’s relationship with Genevieve had been stormy but ended amicably—or so he thought. So how can he explain the deliberately hurtful message she left on his voice mail the night she died? Resigning himself to certain irrefutable facts, Drew records his search for the truth in the form of a novel in which he is the protagonist. Both the real and fictional Drew comb through the evidence turned up by the police, the defense lawyers, and even Katherine Harriman, the prosecutor who took the case because its high-profile nature promised to boost her own career. During the course of the trial she turns words from one of his own novels against him, quoting, “I believe, in my darkest heart of hearts, that when fate and passion align, every last one of us, from the pulpit crier to the bus-stop blue-hair is capable of murder.” As he chases shadows—most of which lead back to himself—the words mock him with the increasing likelihood of his own guilt. An exemplary piece of contemporary Los Angeles noir, Gregg Hurwitz’s The Crime Writer and its twin narratives provide a thrilling ride through the bowels of the world’s glamour capital and a behind-the-scenes look at a crime writer’s craft that challenges our understanding of the nature of guilt.

 

ABOUT GREGG HURWITZ

Gregg Hurwitz is the critically acclaimed bestselling author of eight novels of crime fiction, which have been translated into twelve languages. He lives in Los Angeles with his family. For more information, go to www.gregghurwitz.net.

 

 

A CONVERSATION WITH GREGG HURWITZ

Q. What inspired you to make your protagonist a crime writer? How was writing Drew’s version of the events different from writing the rest of the novel?

A. Well, I suppose I looked at my life one day and saw all the strange, wonderful consultants I’ve befriended—from pathologists to spies to Navy SEALs—over the course of my career, and my assortment of bizarre interests, and thought, “What would happen if I found myself in the middle of a thriller?” I have a unique perspective on trouble, certainly—one that would be very helpful at times and incredibly off the mark at other times. I’d know who to call, I think, and I have a little knowledge about everything from crime scenes to interrogation techniques. But as we know, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I’d say Drew’s version of events is a touch moister. His writing is more genre-like than mine. We’re both hard boiled, but I suppose he’s a bit more convention bound than I’d like to think I am.

Q. How much of Drew is based on you?

A. More than any other character I’ve written. Which is to say, very much and not a lot at the same time.

Q. Los Angeles is so present in The Crime Writer it’s as if the city itself were a character. Was this a conscious decision?

A. Absolutely. I love the crime fiction of this city. This book is a love song to that tradition, and my own unique (I hope) and contemporary take on it. Los Angeles is stunning and infuriating, stimulating and deadening. Where better to put a protagonist who feels alienated from himself?

Q. Do you consult cops, criminalists, and other experts while writing a novel? What’s one of the most startling things you’ve learned in your research? What is one of the most unusual things you’ve undertaken in the name of authenticity?

A. Yes—extensively and frequently. But oddly, much less for this book than for my previous thrillers. I think that’s probably because I’d done all the research for The Crime Writer by living my life. The most startling thing, huh? There’s a variety. When you cut someone’s throat from behind on a covert mission, you have to tip his head down so his lungs don’t suck and give away your position. Cadavers awaiting dissection are hung from their ears rather than laid flat, so their musculature doesn’t distort. Those little grabby bags women take to the opera are called clutch purses.

As for the most unusual undertaking—I’d have to say going up in a stunt plane or going undercover into a mind-control cult.

Q. Your father-in-law is Robert Blake, the actor acquitted of the murder of his wife. In what ways did this influence The Crime Writer?

A. The collision of my personal life and professional life during that time was unsettling and disorienting. I’d be on the phone with prosecutors one day about a particular chapter, then accompanying my wife to testify the next. I’d already conceived of The Crime Writer before Robert was arrested, but the overlap—watching a case being built and defended and seeing where my brain could lend the occasional out-of-left-field idea—really brought some of the notions home. While aspects were familiar, it was like nothing I’d ever encountered. As Drew says, “I’d thought I knew this world. But I’d known only the outside of it. Once I got in the belly of the beast, once the digestive juices went to work on me, I discovered I knew nothing at all. I’d been merely a tourist on the dark side, watching through binoculars as the creatures stalked and feasted.”

Q. It’s unusual for a hard-boiled detective to abstain from alcohol. What made you decide to put Drew in AA?

A. I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer for that. Some aspects of personality sort of arrive with the character. And Drew is egocentric, certainly (he is a writer), but he’s hit bottom before, and he’s learned to rebuild himself already. So there’s a strength there, and a humility too. I’ve never really puzzled it out before right now, but that’s probably what that’s about.

Q. Who are some of your favorite detectives from literature and film and what do you like about them?

A. Bud White from Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. I love his fierce, pissed-off vulnerability.

Lionel Essrog, the PI with Tourette syndrome in Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, has to be one of the most unique, fully formed characters to pass through the genre in decades. He’s an unpredictable mess—you can’t look away.

And though he’s from comics and not a detective, I have to include the Punisher, particularly how Garth Ennis reconceived him. There’s something in train-off-the-tracks revenge narrative that gets me all worked up, and this one hits my sweet spot.

Q. Drew says that he writes potboilers and people read them as a totem against humanity’s collective fear of death. Do you share that opinion?

A. Yes. Against death, and the whole human joke. We like things to fit. We like to close a book with hard answers, a notion of design or meaning. And I think good crime fiction gives you that. Really good crime fiction also gives you a peek through the torn fabric. It gives some answers, but also points to the unanswerable.

Q. You’ve written for television, film, and even comic books. How do those processes compare to novels?

A. They all offer different slants on narrative and require different muscles. Of course, the others are visual mediums, so they have to be tight and lean. You can’t get away with exposition, superfluous scenes, flabby structure. Of course, you shouldn’t try to in novels either, but it’s easier to get off course there, so working in these other fields helps me return to novels with renewed focus on what really drives a story. Comics are fascinating and challenging because you have to tell a whole story in snapshots. Plus, they soothe the inner geekboy.

Q. How would you compare The Crime Writer to your earlier work?

A. It’s drastically different. I’d never written in first person before, I think because I’d never felt that close to a character and the material. In most regards, The Crime Writer feels like a second first novel for me.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Do you think it’s possible for someone to commit murder and not remember it?

  2. Drew admitted that he knew about the tumor months before the night Genevieve died and was warned he could have a seizure while driving his car, thus endangering innocent lives. How much is Drew responsible for what happened subsequently?

  3. Discuss the role that Drew’s celebrity played in his trial and what happened afterward. In what ways did it help or hinder him?

  4. Drew is helped by his connections in law enforcement—Cal Unger, Lloyd Wagner. Do you believe it’s ethical for the police to consult on fictional crimes that may inspire actual criminals?

  5. Sitting at home on his deck, Drew takes an imaginary tour of the city he both loves and hates. In what ways could this story happen only in LA?

  6. Katherine Harriman, the prosecuting attorney in Drew’s case, tells him, “You can never arrive at the truth. . . . The facts are only the raw material, not the finished product.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?

  7. Katherine Harriman, the prosecuting attorney in Drew’s case, tells him, “You can never arrive at the truth. . . . The facts are only the raw material, not the finished product.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?

  8. After Kasey Broach’s death, Detectives Kaden and Delvechio tell Drew that they’re not even looking for another suspect because they know he’s guilty. Do you think this is a reasonable conclusion for two police detectives to draw? Why or why not?

  9. When Drew disapproves of Junior Delgado’s tagging, he retorts, “What would you do if your art was illegal? Stop doin’ it?” Do you feel that Junior should stop painting graffiti just because the law tells him it’s wrong?

  10. Drew’s relationship with Genevieve ended because she was too emotionally damaged. Do you think he would have been attracted to a woman like Caroline before the trial? How have his experiences changed him?

    Spoiler Warning: Do not read these next questions if you don’t want to know who did it!

  11. Mort Frankel was a rapist but not a murderer. Since Drew uncovered his crimes do you feel that it was fair to arrest and convict him on illegally obtained evidence?

  12. Do you think Lloyd would’ve been able to imagine such a clever way to commit murder and frame Drew if he hadn’t consulted on Drew’s novels?

  13. How much of an allowance do you think a jury would have made for Lloyd’s motives? Do you think there was any nobility in his actions or was he simply selfish or insane?