Born just outside Chicago in 1950 to an advertising copywriter father and stay-at-home mom, Jeffery Deaver was a writer from the start, penning his first book (a brief tome just two chapters in length) at age 11. He went on to edit his high school literary magazine and serve on the staff of the school newspaper, chasing the dream of becoming a crack reporter.
Upon earning his B.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri, Deaver realized that he lacked the necessary background to become a legal correspondent for the high-profile publications he aspired to, such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, so he enrolled at Fordham Law School. Being a legal eagle soon grew on Deaver, and rather than continue on as a reporter, he took a job as a corporate lawyer at a top Wall Street firm. Deaver's detour from the writing life wasn't to last, however; ironically, it was his substantial commute to the law office that touched off his third -- and current -- career. He'd fill the long hours on the train scribbling his own renditions of the kind of fiction he enjoyed reading most: suspense.
Voodoo, a supernatural thriller, and Always a Thief, an art-theft caper, were Deaver's first published novels. Produced by the now-defunct Paperjacks paperback original house, the books are no longer in print, but they remain hot items on the collector circuit. His first major outing was the Rune series, which followed the adventures of an aspiring female filmmaker in the power trilogy Manhattan Is My Beat (1988), Death of a Blue Movie Star (1990), and Hard News (1991).
Deaver's next series, this one featuring the adventures of ace movie location scout John Pellam, featured the thrillers Shallow Graves (1992), Bloody River Blues (1993), and Hell's Kitchen (2001). Written under the pen name William Jefferies, the series stands out in Deaver's body of work, primarily because it touched off his talent for focusing more on his vivid characters than on their perilous situations.
In fact, it is his series featuring the intrepid and beloved team of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs that showcases Deaver at the top of his game. Confronting enormous odds (and always under somewhat gruesome circumstances), the embittered detective and his feisty partner and love interest made their debut in 1991's grisly caper The Bone Collector, and hooked fans for four more books: The Coffin Dancer (1998), The Empty Chair (2000), The Stone Monkey (2002), and The Vanishing Man(2003). Of the series, Kirkus Reviews observed, "Deaver marries forensic work that would do Patricia Cornwell proud to turbocharged plots that put Benzedrine to shame."
On the creation of Rhyme, who happens to be a paraplegic, Deaver explained to Shots magazine, "I wanted to create a Sherlock Holmes-ian kind of character that uses his mind rather than his body. He solves crimes by thinking about the crimes, rather than someone who can shoot straight, run faster, or walk into the bar and trick people into giving away the clues."
As for his reputation for conjuring up some of the most unsavory scenes in pop crime fiction, Deaver admits on his web site, "In general, I think, less is more, and that if a reader stops reading because a book is too icky then I've failed in my obligation to the readers."
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Deaver revises his manuscripts "at least 20 or 30 times" before his publishers get to even see a version.
Two of his books have been made into major feature films. The first was A Maiden's Grave (the film adaptation was called Dead Silence), which starred James Garner and Marlee Matlin. The Bone Collector came next, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
In addition to being a bestselling novelist, Deaver has also been a folksinger, songwriter, music researcher, and professional poet.
Deaver's younger sister, Julie Reece Deaver, is a fellow author who writes novels for young adults.
In our interview with Deaver, he reveals, "My inspiration for writing is the reader. I want to give readers whatever will excite and please them. It's absolutely vital in this business for authors to know their audience and to write with them in mind."
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What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, because it was a complex, yet highly readable story, incorporating action, emotion, and philosophy, which seamlessly tied together a number of subplots, all of which were ultimately related.
What are your favorite books -- and why?
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (see above)
- Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow -- Brilliant style and brilliant thinking.
- Hugging the Shore by John Updike -- Essays by the one of the world's best critics and a wonderful writer.
- From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming -- The best of the James Bond novels, gritty and realistic. Nothing flashy.
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- Controlled magical realism in a delicious style.
- The Collected Poems of Richard Wilbur -- Our age's Robert Frost.
- The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carre -- A brilliant novelist exploring human and political conflict and how they come together.
- The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris -- the most chilling and compelling thriller -- and heroine -- of the past twenty years.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- a solid representative of Sherlock Holmes.
- The Collected Stories of John Cheever -- Nobody writes observant, understated stories about relationships and society as well as Cheever.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- Subtle, poignant and page-turning storytelling at its best.
- Shane -- The classic stranger-comes-to-town western.
- Saving Private Ryan -- A gripping, honest war movie.
- Bullitt -- Spare, edge-of-the-seat cop drama.
- The Day of the Jackal -- Again, top suspense.
- The Masterpiece Theater T.V. adaptation of I, Claudius.
Classical, Celtic, folk, jazz.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
Popular fiction -- because I think some of our most important writing is done in this field nowadays.
What are your favorite books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I tend to give nonfiction, since fiction tends to be very subjective, yet I know pretty well which friends will enjoy which books, such as cookbooks, biographies, travel books, etc. I, too, prefer to receive nonfiction.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
John LeCarre, Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Ian Rankin, P. D. James, John Gilstrap, Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell), and literary writers like Saul Bellow, John Updike, John Cheever, Jane Smiley, and poets Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur. Oh, yeah, that guy from England, too -- Bill Shakespeare -- he's okay, too.
Why them? Because they all tell stories (even the poets) rather than simply trying to dazzle with style and form alone.
What else do you want your readers to know?
It's a solitary life being a writer, so I enjoy activities that bring me into contact with others -- I love to entertain, cook and collect (and drink!) wine. Last year I had a Roman banquet for 50 people, in which I made authentic roman recipes. I've done a medieval banquet too. Usually I stick to more normal cooking -- French, Irish, Italian, Asian and Indian are my favorites, though I also make up recipes of my own.
I've been a non-athlete all my life, but in my advancing years I've taking up skiing and scuba diving. This year I skied the back bowls at Vail and loved it. But I'm never without my laptop. I don't think a day has gone by in the last ten years when I haven't done some work on a book or short story.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Jeffery Deaver had to say:
I was always a bookish kid, with no passion for sports (except passionately hoping the soft ball didn't get hit my way). So when summer came around, I was delighted, but not because of going away to camp or the athletic fields. No, I was ecstatic because I could look forward to three months of reading whenever -- and whatever -- I wanted to, and taking in a matinee at the movie house now and then.
My most memorable summer reads were -- and still are -- always good, basic stories. Plots, beginning, middle and end. I think of the following fondly:
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and Pelucidar books
Ray Bradbury's short stories
C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series
Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love
Elmore Leonard's 52 Pickup
John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books
The Fifth Horseman by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré
Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson
John Cheever's Collected Stories
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