Archive for Thursday, July 22, 1999


July 22, 1999


The detective mystery novelist also is in a band with such authors as Stephen King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan.

Ridley Pearson is not Mickey Spillane, although there are times in his life when he wishes he was.

Pearson, famous for writing complex mystery thrillers, usually works 60 to 70 hours Monday through Friday -- with a few extra hours thrown in on the weekends -- meticulously researching, writing and editing police procedurals, which when combined into his novels cause readers to turn the pages and lose a lot of sleep.

It is impossible for the author to crank out his thrillers quickly.

"It ain't pulp fiction," Pearson said during a recent phone interview. "I can't fire one of these off every three weeks. It's a long and exacting process."

The end result is that he has a set schedule that enables him to finish one new novel every year -- with the help of a personal assistant handling business chores and editors working on the publisher's end.

Pearson will read from his latest novel, "The First Victim," lead a discussion on writing and research techniques and offer a book signing Saturday morning at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

Some of Pearson's previous best sellers include "The Pied Piper," "Beyond Recognition," "Chain of Evidence" and "Undercurrents." "The First Victim" is his 12th novel.

The novelist was drawn to the genre by reading the works of John D. MacDonald, Robert Ludlum and Ken Follett, and by his own knack for finding good crime stories in the headlines.

"I'm always collecting ideas from articles for future books. I see crime everywhere. I'd make a great criminal," he said with a laugh.

Pearson makes his home in Seattle and sets many of his stories there. Six of his books feature recurring characters Sgt. Lou Boldt and psychologist Daphne Matthews on the trail of nefarious serial killers.

His books are noted for -- excuse the phrase -- dead-on forensic details and other precise technical procedures that add real validity to his capers.

Pearson's stories have coincided eerily with headline topics.

In his 1995 novel, "Chain of Evidence," he focused on the existence of a "crime gene." That same theory was the focus of a major genetics conference later that year.

In "The Pied Piper," Pearson wrote about illegal adoption practices, only to see that topic become the subject of a New York Times series shortly after his book was published.

Like his novel's plots, Pearson has these coincidences all figured out.

"I seem to catch those interesting crimes back on page 20 of the newspaper," he said. "And as I write the book, those news stories percolate up through the pages until they become big news and end up on page one -- about the time my book is coming out."

His latest thriller is no exception. "The First Victim" follows Sgt. Boldt as he investigates the illegal smuggling of Chinese immigrants to the West Coast in shipping containers.

Pearson discovered that topic in a New York Times article. About the time "The First Victim" was set for release, accounts of immigrant smuggling in California and Washington were page one news.

Other interests

After dropping out of both Kansas University and Brown University, Pearson worked as a musician for several years. And before he sold his first novel, he earned his living by writing magazine articles and traveling the country playing gigs.

The music bug is still with him, and he is part of Rock Bottom Remainders, a literary all-star band that plays a few concerts annually for charity. He plays bass guitar; the rest of the lineup includes Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and Mitch Albom.

Musician-songwriter Warren Zevon is also in the group. And with King still recovering from some recent injuries, guitarist Steve Miller has agreed to fill in for the horror novelist.

"We play '60s classic rock really, really loudly," Pearson said.

The band's advertised motto is: "This band plays music as well as Metallica writes novels."

Sometimes, Pearson's work reaps unexpected benefits. While researching illegal adoption, he became aware of the high number of abandoned baby girls in Chinese orphanages.

His growing concern led him and his wife, Marcelle, to adopt a baby themselves, and they will gain custody of her next month.

"My family is the most important thing in my life," he said. "I love what I do, but I love my family even more."

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