Byline: By Sue Doerfler
Robert Crais broke into mystery
writing not by being a cop, a lawyer
or a private detective. No, he did what many aspiring writers would kill
to do: He wrote scripts for TV crime shows.
Having been a fan of Baretta, the author, in the
mid-1970s, picked up and
moved to Los Angeles to make it or break it. He left behind his native Louis-
iana and a nearly finished college degree in mechanical engineering.
He bought some secondhand scripts, to see how
they were done. He quickly
found work and had a lucrative career writing scripts for many of the popular
shows: Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice and L.A. Law.
"I'm well aware that I'm one of the lucky ones,"
said Crais, who will be at
the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale on Friday to sign his new book, Sunset Express.
"I don't have one of those 'lived on rat meat and Styrofoam' stories to tell."
Just as he gave up college, Crais
gave up screenwriting to turn to novels 10
years later. The author admits he has led a charmed life, not unlike that of his
main character, wisecracking Elvis Cole, a detective who has a comeback for
every comment and a sense of humor as well.
"He's an idealized version of myself," said
Crais, who says he tries to be as
witty as his character. "But I'm not as funny, and I'm not as quick."
Crais' other characters are as vivid as Cole and as self-reflecting.
"I'm my good guys, but I'm also my bad guys,"
he said. "If you're writing
them as true as you can, you have no other choice than to open them up and
add pieces of yourself."
When he writes, Crais, who is 42 and
lives in Southern California with his
wife and daughter, first develops the characters, then creates the story line.
"The story requires the most work," he said. "I
have to live with the story
for months. I'm not one of those writers who can just begin typing on paper.
I couldn't keep all the clues straight if I didn't plan it all out."
For his latest book, the character of Angela Rossi,
a Los Angeles police
detective, came to him first.
"I saw a woman, a single mother, who had ambitions,"
he said. "She arrests
a rich guy. His attorneys launch a campaign to crush her."
The main attorney is the famous defense lawyer
Jonathan Green. His assem-
bled group of lawyers is referred to as the Big Green Defense Team. Rossi
is accused of falsifying evidence.
Sound familiar? It is, and it isn't: Although
the O.J. Simpson trial may have
been a catalyst for the book, the story is not a repeat of it. Sunset Express
provides a different puzzle.
"I don't think anybody in America could not be
affected by it," Crais said
of the Simpson trial. "The message is, 'It's different for rich people.' "
He took that idea and expanded on it, leading
Cole on a trek to determine who
the dirty players are and who the real victims are.
Other issues are at the heart of Crais' five other books.
Voodoo River involves adoption: a woman searching
for her birth parents to
learn her medical history.
The story is in part autobiographical: Crais,
who is adopted, ended up
trying to find out whether his birth parents had histories of any medical
"By the way, I had never wondered about my birth
parents," he said. "My
mom and dad were my mom and dad. Writing the book helped me to sort
"Writing the books is like getting paid for therapy."
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