Crime may not always pay, but crime fiction always sells, and Ridley Pearson is one of the stars of the genre, the kind of writer whose royalties keep his family fed and cover a few extras as well (like, say, his own airplane). Yet Pearson didn't spend his youth dreaming of bestsellerdom. His first ambition was to be a musician, and he spent most of his twenties writing and performing folk-rock songs. The idea that he might become a novelist came later. As he explained in a Barnes and Noble interview, he was reading a Robert Ludlum novel when "a voice spoke up from inside me and said, 'I can do this.'" (Once he began writing and discovered firsthand the skill involved in crafting a cohesive thriller, he realized how much he had presumed!)
Pearson is renowned for fast-paced, thrill-a-minute suspense novels that include "a rare humanism and attention to detail" (Publishers Weekly). In a Greenwich Magazine interview he called his work "aerobic fiction, because I hope to get your heart pounding and get you turning pages." Entertainment Weekly dubbed him "the thinking person's Robert Ludlum."
As his fans know, Pearson works hard at nailing the details of forensic investigation and police procedure. In Undercurrents (the first novel in his Seattle-based Lou Boldt mystery series) his research was so thorough -- he consulted an expert in oceanography -- that the book helped convict an actual murderer. A Washington state prosecuting attorney happened to be reading it while working on a case similar to Pearson's fictional one: A woman's body had been found in a bay, and at first it appeared that she had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. The oceanographer mentioned in Pearson's acknowledgements was called in as an expert witness to help prove that, based on tidal currents, the woman must have been dead before the time her husband claimed to have last seen her. Due largely to the expert testimony, the victim's husband was convicted of second-degree murder.
Of course, there's more to a Pearson novel than research. "Just what is it about Ridley Pearson that makes him the best damn thriller writer on the planet?" mused Bill Ott in BookList. "We've celebrated the forensic detail, the taut plotting, the multidimensional characters, and the screw-tightening suspense, but lots of fiction writers do all that. Here's a theory: Pearson is a master at manipulating opposites. His stories are forever jumping from high concept to small scale, from positive to negative charges, manipulating our emotions and minds with their polar hip-hopping."
When he's not writing, Pearson still makes music -- he's the bass guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, an amateur rock band made up of professional writers including Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom. (The group's motto, coined by Barry: "We play music as well as Metallica writes novels.")
It was while Pearson was in Miami to play with the Rock Bottom Remainders that he told Barry about his idea (actually, daughter Paige's idea) for a prequel to Peter Pan. The two authors had such a good time hashing out possibilities over breakfast that Pearson asked Barry to write the book with him. Published in 2004, their clever collaboration Peter and the Starcatchers became a huge bestseller, spawning two sequels (Peter and the Shadow Thieves in 2006 and Peter and the Secret of Rundoon in 2007) and a series of spin-off children's chapter books.
Even though Pearson thoroughly enjoys crafting juvenile fiction, his adult fans need not worry that he's abandoned his high-voltage crime novels. Indeed, he has said that writing gives him the same "adrenaline rush," no matter which audience he is targeting: Readers of all ages appreciate the imagination, suspense, and an impeccable eye for detail he brings to all his fiction.
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Pearson calls himself a workaholic, "not so much by desire as out of necessity," since he reserves a lot of time for his two young daughters. His hobbies, which he now defines as "something you once did and no longer have the time for," include recreational tree climbing, fly-fishing, backyard volleyball, snow boarding -- and, of course, bass guitar in his rock band. An avid reviser, Pearson says, "I'm said to have a nervous, worrying disposition, but rarely feel I live up to that description -- perhaps internal calm is expressed as external nervosa."
Pearson loves to travel, especially to southern France, with wife Marcelle and second child Storey, who is adopted from China. We're certain to do a good deal of international travel in the years to come. He also attends local symphony and theater. But his "favorite avocation is to spend an evening around our dining table with two or three other couples. This, I feel, is where many of the world's ills are solved, and many souls restored. Mine, especially."
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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. Here's what made Ridley Pearson's list:
My all-time favorite writers:
Fodor Dostoevsky (especially Crime And Punishment)
John D. McDonald
William Shakespeare (comedies, the King plays)
Frank Baum (Oz series)
W. B. Yeats (poems)
Some favorite books (recent and otherwise):
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Grand Hotel by Vicky Baum
World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester
Ship Of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Nobel House by James Clavel
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John LeCarre
A Place Of Execution by Val McDermid
In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson
John Adams by David McCullough
Eye Of The Needle by Ken Follet
Atonement and The Innocent by Ian McEwan
Shakespeare by Michael Wood
Lake Of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Ridley Pearson took a break from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions from us:
What was the book that most influenced your life?
Of all the great books I've read -- and there are SO many! -- it seems somewhat sacrilegious to credit a Robert Ludlum as being the most influential to my writing, especially when I don't recall the title. But I do remember clearly that it was while reading a Ludlum one day in the late 1970s that a voice spoke up from inside me and said, "I can do this" (this seems so presumptuous now, given how hard it is to write a cohesive novel).
As a child of 10 or 12 I had experienced a similar moment while reading one of the Landmark Book historical novels -- I remember being in awe of the idea that someone had written this book I was reading -- I remember the smell of the binding glue and the pages, the ink, and thinking I'd never be smart enough to write a book myself.
I think the Ludlum showed me it isn't "smarts" so much as hard work. My fellow band mate (from The Rockbottom Remainders) Stephen King said to me recently, tongue-in-cheek, "Ridley, I think inspiration is overrated." We were talking about our current books -- we'd both hit stumbling blocks at the same time -- and Stephen wasn't waiting around for divine intervention. He was going to climb back into the chair and start writing. And that's what I do, too: I run right over the stumbling blocks instead of allowing them to halt my advance.
What are your 10 favorite books?
As a writer you are asked this all the time, and honestly, I typically won't answer it. A day later you think of another much more important title; you realize you left off a deserving friend; this is challenge I'd rather not face. That said:
- Crime and Punishment. While on the Fulbright in Oxford, I picked this up, having been "afraid" of the Russians, believing them "over my head." Nonsense! This is, without a doubt, the greatest thriller ever written.
- The Old Man and the Sea had a profound effect on me as a teen. Don't know how it would strike me today.
- A World Lit Only by Fire remains perhaps my all time favorite history.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Again, a novel read as a teen, but one that activated my imagination in ways books before it had not.
- Shakespearean plays -- studies in grace, character and drama. Can't be beat.
- The Kentucky Cycle, a play by Robert Schenkkan. I read this in the past five years. The voice, the dialogue, are sensationally clear and sharp.
- The Stand, a classic pitting of good against evil. Rarely can a book grip me to the point as this one did. I was afraid to pick it up and continue reading. I was afraid not to read it. Powerful stuff.
- A Place of Execution. Hits the mystery novel dead on.
- Presumed Innocent and Personal Injuries. Legal thrillers, literary novels, don't get any better; and the first person, present tense of Presumed Innocent broke new ground.
- Anything by Barbara Kingsolver. I would read her grocery lists and love it.
Anything by Dave Barry. Way more than just funny (which they are) Dave's work gives one insight into our culture and our own foibles in ways few other journalists, much less humorists, are capable of. And, oh yes, never end a sentence with a preposition.
Who are your favorite writers?
TOO MANY TO LIST! A few are...
Mystery/thriller authors: Dennis LeHane; Michael Connelly; Jeff Parker, Peter Robinson; Val McDermid; Elizabeth George
History/biography authors: William Manchester; David McCullough
Contemporary fiction authors: Barbara Kingsolver; Scott Turow; Stephen King; David Long
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|Ridley Pearson Home
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|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Ridley Pearson|
|Never Look Back, 1985|
|Blood of the Albatross, 1986|
|Hidden Charges, 1987|
|Dead Aim, 1988|
|Probable Cause, 1990|
|Aim for the Heart, 1990|
|Hard Fall, 1992|
|The Angel Maker, 1993|
|No Witnesses, 1994|
|Chain of Evidence, 1995|
|Beyond Recognition, 1997|
|The Pied Piper, 1998|
|First Victim, 1999|
|Concerto in Dead Flat, 1999|
|Middle of Nowhere, 2000|
|Parallel Lies, 2001|
|The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, 2002|
|The Art of Deception, 2002|
|The Body of David Hayes, 2004|
|Peter and the Starcatchers, 2004|
|Cut and Run, 2005|
|Kingdom Keepers, 2005|
|Peter and the Shadow Thieves, 2006|
|Killer Weekend, 2007|
|Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, 2007|