Jeffrey Deaver

"Hello, can I speak to Jeffery Deaver, please?"

"What part of the hotel does he work in?"

When I finally get through to the world-famous writer of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers in his London hotel, he is amused. "Well, perhaps I could always get a job in a hotel," he says, laughing. Deaver's no diva.

In truth, Deaver is a bit of a Renaissance man. Journalist, lawyer and even folk singer, he is most famous for his 32 novels, short stories and a non-fiction law book. He even wrote a country and western album to accompany his Kathryn Dance novel, XO.

"It's important for authors to realise it's a changing world and so much more is required to compete for readers' attention," he says. "A book is the highest form of creative engagement."

At the moment Deaver is on the publicity trail with his latest Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Skin Collector, a 17-years-after follow-up to The Bone Collector, which was made into a film starring Denzel Washington.

The Skin Collector is a thrilling and horrifying serial murder mystery featuring the quadriplegic Rhyme, whose partner and sidekick, Amelia Sachs, acts as his eyes and ears at crime scenes.

Deaver is personable and charming on the phone - not the sort of man you'd think would be able to imagine the dark, evil deeds that he writes about.

I say the twists and turns of The Skin Collector reminded me of those old films where the heroine is tied to the rail track as a train bears down on her and in the next episode, she has miraculously escaped, or the hero careers off a cliff, only for the next week to reveal he swerved to one side at the last second.

"I was influenced by those Saturday afternoon serials," Deaver admits. "But I make sure that I have planted some information first and used sleight of hand to make the reader think the safety valve is for a different purpose. One of the things I consider is cheating is to pull something out of the hat."

He says that 17 years ago he left threads in The Bone Collector that would be picked up in this latest novel.

I ask him if the grumpy Lincoln Rhyme, confined as he is to a wheelchair, albeit the latest high-tech model, and living in comparative luxury in a townhouse overlooking New York's Central Park, is happy. "That's a great question. He's happy when his mind is engaged. He came about thanks to watching Jeremy Brett in a TV production of Sherlock Holmes. We hadn't seen an intellectual hero or (one) who uses his mind exclusively. I didn't want him to have the option of pulling out a gun. That's what I wanted to do - I was tired of 70s action movies."

In 2011, Deaver wrote Carte Blanche, the continuation of the James Bond series (since then, William Boyd has written another instalment, Solo). Seven years before, Deaver had written Garden of Beasts, the closest he'd gone to an espionage novel. It won the Crime Writers' Association Steel Dagger Award, sponsored by Ian Fleming's estate. "I said I'd been influenced by Ian Fleming. They asked me if I'd write (the next Bond) and I hesitated for all of three seconds!"

He says he wanted it to be set in the modern era because he wanted to expand the written Bond to a new and younger audience who only knew the films. "People didn't know they were books. I wanted Bond to be dark, intelligent, morally unambiguous, the essential human hero. And the fans were pleased," he says.

In another nod to the modern age, his Bond gave up smoking.

A book out next northern spring will be a Kathryn Dance thriller.

Deaver has won awards from the International Thriller Writers Association, Steel Dagger and Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association, the Nero Wolfe award and Japanese honours. My favourite is the Thumping Good Read Award, just for the sound of it. Deaver agrees, for a different reason. "It was voted for by the readers, customers of WH Smith in the UK."

The Skin Collector is definitely a thumping good read.

The West Australian

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